A reminder to HR of the issues and solutions of employees complaining that being at work is the cause of their skin problem.
This is a problem that crops up from time to time, an employee complaining that a product they are required to use in your workplace is causing a skin rash which they believe is dermatitis and this is causing them anxiety. How should you deal with this work-related allegation?
The skin’s key role is to act as a protective barrier between the body and the external environment. To do this it must stay intact and healthy. However, there are irritants that not only damage skin, but can cause illness elsewhere in the body. For this reason, if an employee blames a skin problem on something they’re using at work, you must take action. But what does the law require you to do?
The most relevant legislation here is the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). This gives a framework for you to follow with regards to identifying and managing hazards including potential skin hazards. In summary, you must:
- Identify possible risks;
- Eliminate or reduce them;
- Introduce control measures for those that can’t be sufficiently reduced;
- Provide information, instruction and training on any precautions introduced; and
- Provide health surveillance, where appropriate.
Start by identifying exactly what substances this employee is exposed to as part of their job. Don’t just consider liquids: substances include fumes, dusts, vapours, mists and gases. Also establish if they’re using any new products in your workplace or personally. If any COSHH assessments have been undertaken, check them for mention of products that are irritant or corrosive. Also use the safety data sheets for each chemical to help you assess the risks to skin. If you have suppliers on site such as cleaners or photocopying companies supplying toners you should ask them for copies of their safety data sheets.
Meet the employee
Hopefully, your investigation will reveal the exact cause of the skin problem but you may need to refer the employee to an occupational health adviser or ask them to consult their GP. The employee should cease use of the substance until satisfactory control measures are introduced.
However, don’t assume that the skin rash is work related – neither should you let the employee insist that it is. It may be triggered by a new product they are using at home, so do ask about these.
To reduce the chances of a recurrence, work through the following precautions in descending order:
- Eliminate – can you remove the problem by automating the process or making it safer, e.g. removing the product?;
- Control measures – what can you do to reduce impact, e.g. improve ventilation?;
- Substitute – look to substitute the product, e.g. introduce nitrile gloves instead of latex ones; and
- PPE – issue personal protective equipment, such as eye protection and gloves.
If you would like further advice you can contact advo hr.
You can find out more about advo hr here .