Occupational dermatitis figures show that a number of employers are breaching their legal obligation to protect workers from exposure to harmful chemicals and substances.
The Government Health and Safety statistics confirm that between 2009 and 2011, there were around 40,000 new cases of occupational skin diseases per year. The high figure shows that work-related skin conditions are still common, despite the number of sufferers having fallen since 2005.
Individuals tend to develop occupational dermatitis through exposure to harmful chemicals and substances in the workplace. The Health and Safety figures show that the most common cause is ‘wet work’, where skin is in contact with soaps and cleansers.
An employer’s duty of care
Employers have a duty of care and are required to adhere to Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations. After conducting risk assessments on any tasks involving potentially harmful chemicals and substances, they must then take appropriate action to eradicate or eliminate any possible risks to the skin.
Such measures that employers can take to protect their employees from occupational dermatitis and their business from dermatitis claims include:
- Substitution – replacing a hazardous substance with one that presents less or no risk, or using another process where skin isn’t exposed to the chemical.
- controlling the amount of time an employer is exposed to a certain workplace substance.
- Chemical safety data sheets – providing employees with information on a chemical’s potential hazards , advising on handling, storage and emergency measures in case of an accident.
- Control and monitoring – controlling exposure through equipment, procedures and work behaviour, while monitoring these processes to ensure they remain effective.
- Permits – setting up a permit-to-work system with previously agreed safety procedures where employers must authorise the usage of potentially harmful chemicals.
- Personal protective equipment- providing adequate clothing, gloves, footwear, eye protection or respirators to protect individuals.
- Health surveillance – obtaining information about employees’ health, checking for signs of occupational dermatitis and then taking relevant action.
- Training – offering information and training on the potential hazards so that employees understand the preventive processes their workplace has in place.
Employees then have a duty to make full use of the procedures and equipment put in place to protect their skin.
Occupational dermatitis claims
If an employer breaches their duty of care and fails to control their workforce’s exposure to harmful chemicals, they are at risk of employees developing occupational dermatitis.
Industrial disease solicitors often deal with individuals suffering from the skin condition as a result of their workplace. People with dermatitis suffer from pain and the inability to function as they would normally. This can result in a loss of earnings and even stop the person from continuing in their employment. Due to the damages caused, such individuals can claim dermatitis compensation from their employers.
Medical evidence must be provided to confirm that the claimant developed dermatitis as a result of their negligent employer, while the substance used must be deemed as potentially harmful.
As the Health and Safety statistics show that there were a high number of new work-related dermatitis cases between 2009-2011, this suggests that a number of businesses are ignoring their legal requirements and putting themselves at risk of occupational dermatitis claims. By simply adhering to the regulations, organisations can protect their workers from the skin condition, while also safeguarding their business from costly and time-consuming dermatitis claims.