Chris Wakefield, Vice President of European Marketing & Product Development at GOJO, discusses how to minimise occupational skin disorders in the construction and manual industries.

When it comes to health and safety in heavy or manual industries, there is much attention paid to preventing accidents, for example falling from height, electrocution, or getting struck by objects. And rightly so, for these hazards can be life threatening. But there is another pervasive problem that affects these workers: occupational skin disorders.

According to the Health & Safety Executive, painters and decorators, carpenters and joiners, and those in the construction and building trades all suffer from more than twice the all-industry rate of contact dermatitis. This is perhaps unsurprising when you consider the punishment that their hands regularly endure. Injuries from small cuts and scratches, contact with oils, grease, dust, paint, and an array of other substances, and often exposure to harsh chemical cleaners to remove these soils can all take their toll, leaving skin sore and damaged.

This in itself presents another health problem. People with damaged skin are more likely to abandon handwashing practice, for fear of aggravating their condition, which, in turn, can lead to widespread illness across the workforce. As well as potentially spreading soils and stains to other surfaces, dirty hands can also pass on harmful germs, as they can persist on surfaces, even ones covered in other soils – particularly pertinent at the moment in the midst of a global pandemic.

TLC FOR TOUGH HANDS The best way for employers to prevent contact

dermatitis on the job is to minimise exposure to these substances in the first place. A risk assessment for each irritant or allergen workers may interact with on site should be conducted and a plan created to eliminate or reduce the amount of contact. Employees also need to be well trained on how to avoid these hazards, including good hand hygiene behaviour.

Hand hygiene is crucial, both to clean away harmful substances and stains and to completely remove any


viruses that may be clinging to the aforementioned dirt. However, given the risk of dermatitis and the daily contact with tough soils such as dirt, grease, oil, carbon black, caulk, graphite, adhesive, paint, sealant, and tar, employers need to give careful thought to the products they provide.

There is an array of products on the market, which can become confusing when different solutions are offered, depending on the type of dirt and grime needing to be removed. While many of these have their place, they do not provide ease of purchase for the employer or ease of use for the worker. In addition, they often rely on applying harsh chemicals to remove the soiling, which can further damage skin. It is therefore important that employers choose a soap or sanitiser, which protects the skin.

You might think that products need to be harsh in order to tackle the challenges posed by tough soils, but there has been much innovation and there are now hand cleaners available, which are specifically designed to remove tougher dirt and grime, whilst caring for skin.

GOJO Natural and Olive Hand Cleaners, for example, use a high proportion of natural ingredients, reducing the amount of chemicals hands are exposed to. These plant-based scrubbers remove medium and heavy-duty soils, including grease, carbon black, caulk, graphite, adhesive, paint, sealant, and tar with minimum fuss. Enriched with moisturising agents, they are also kind to skin.

Protecting your hands is one of the best ways to have a long, productive career in heavy or manual industries. Employers and staff alike should take steps to promote good hand safety and hygiene, so that workers can continue to put their valuable skills and training to use.

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