Preventing skin disease

26th of November 2012
Preventing skin disease

ECJ’s correspondent in Scandinavia, Petra Sjouwerman, gives us an update on work-related skin diseases in the Danish cleaning sector.

In Denmark the number of compensation claims for work-related skin diseases has almost doubled these past six years, particularly for hairdressers and professional cleaners. Nevertheless Danish experts stress that this does not mean that professional cleaners contract skin diseases more often than in the past. "Nowadays people are just more aware of the fact that skin diseases
could be work-related," according to a spokesperson from the Danish National Board of Industrial Injuries.

In 2005 skin diseases amounted to just under eight per cent of reported occupational diseases. Last year this number has increased to almost 15 per cent.

The most common form of work-related eczema is hand eczema. Symptoms are itching, redness, swelling, crusting and blistering. It can be very painful during a flare-up. Every year there about 2,000 reported cases of work-related eczema in Denmark. Treatment can be a difficult process that is long and protracted. For cleaners it often results in sick leave and the need to change careers.

Risk of eczema greater

Hand eczema is caused by skin irritation through wet work and substances that may cause allergy like soaps, disinfectants and cleaning agents. The longer the time the hands are wet in the course
of a working day, the greater the risk of eczema because water weakens the skin's defence against the penetration of  harmful substances.

In the last year the Danish Sector Safety Council has published a guide to inform how cleaning companies best can protect their workers and how workers best can protect themselves. The most important conclusions in this guide concern cleaning products. The Council recommends the use of cleaning products without perfume. The use of products with as few ingredients as possible
and not to use too many different cleaning products at the same time.

Use of gloves

Another important topic in the guide is the use of gloves. Since latex and rubber chemicals also can cause eczema in some people, gloves should have cotton inserts or liners. This prevents direct contact with the glove itself and assures that hands stay dry. Gloves should be thrown out when they change size, surface, form or colour. Disposable gloves may only be used once.

Furthermore the Danish Sector Safety Council recommends cleaners to use a hand moisturiser or rich cream to lubricate the skin several times during the day and before leaving the workplace at the end of the shift.

The two Danish trades unions that organise professional cleaners recommend their members to contact their family doctor as soon as they suspect eczema, as studies have shown that those who visit their doctor early in the disease process may better combat eczema. The Danish unions recommend to keep receipts of ointments, creams and gloves, so members can get their money back if the eczema is later recognised as an industrial injury.

In 2011 the Danish National Board of Industrial Injuries has compensated work-related claims for approximately 18 million euros.


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