Virginia employees who routinely work around hazardous materials should be aware that occupational skin diseases may be more prevalent than they think. In fact, they are the second-most common type of workplace ailments. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health estimates that over 13 million workers in the United States may be exposed to chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin. Industries in which skin disease may pose a significant risk include health care, food service, cosmetology, construction, auto repair and agriculture.
The federal agency states that skin exposure to hazardous material can result in a range of occupational skin diseases and systemic toxicity. While past efforts have targeted developing prevention plans and methods on exposure via inhalation, the methods for evaluating how to prevent skin exposure to hazardous chemicals are lacking.
Employees should know that occupational skin diseases come in many forms, including allergic contact dermatitis; skin infections, cancers and injuries; and irritant contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis, or eczema, is the occupational skin condition that is most frequently reported and can produce symptoms that include blisters, swelling, redness, and itchy and painful skin.
Employees should also be aware that occupational skin conditions are usually caused by chemical agents that come in contact with the skin via primary irritants or sensitizers. Primary sensitizers work through chemical reactions, and the repeated exposure to sensitizers can cause allergic reactions. The skin can be exposed to the hazardous chemicals by inhaling aerosols, immersion, direct contact with contaminated surfaces or splashes.
Workers who suffer from occupational illnesses may be entitled to receive workers' compensation benefits. These can include reimbursement of medical expenses as well as partial wage replacement in some cases. An attorney can often assist with the preparation and timely filing of the required claim forms.