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Protecting Your Skin at Work

The skin is the largest organ of the body. Perhaps that is the reason why skin problems and injuries to the skin can be physically as well as psychologically devastating. Although protecting the skin would seem to be common sense, skin problems account for almost two thirds of all industrial illnesses.

The most common causes of skin irritation, disease, and injury are overexposure to extreme temperatures, radiation, chemical substances (such as solvents, alkalies, and acids) or biological substances or plant substances (such as poison ivy or poison oak). Clearly the safest route is to avoid contact with such irritants. If you work with or around substances known to cause skin problems, your company should help identify those hazards, advise you about safe work practices and, most importantly, provide the proper equipment to help ensure that you and your skin remain safe and well protected.

Before working with any potentially irritating substances, a worker has an absolute right to know what he or she is working with on the job. Chemical substances must be clearly labeled and material safety data sheets (MSDSs) must be made available to the workers to advise them on the proper use, transportation, and storage of such chemicals.

Appropriate personal protective equipment must be provided where necessary to protect the skin from possible irritants. Such personal protective equipment may include work gloves, barrier creams, protective clothing (such as aprons or coveralls), boots, safety glasses or goggles, face shields, respiratory protection, or any combination of these items. Moreover, it should be the type necessary to protect the worker from the specific hazards on the job, fit well, and be in good operating condition.

In addition, emergency facilities, including shower facilities or eye washes, should be available to lessen injury when a worker does come into contact with a skin irritant.

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