NIOSH guidance prevents skin damage from chemical exposure
U.S. businesses spend more than $1 billion on occupational skin disorders, one of the most frequently reported occupational illnesses. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has released a guidance to help employers reduce the physical and financial suffering caused by skin contact with chemicals in the workplace.
More than 13 million workers are potentially exposed to chemicals via the skin, according to NIOSH. Those exposed on a daily basis include workers in agriculture, manufacturing, services, transportation/utilities, construction, and sales.
Many work settings lack preventive measures because employers, workers, and occupational health professionals accept skin problems as part of the job, the agency said. By understanding the risks and taking fairly simple actions, employers can protect their workers.
Chemical exposures to the skin can result in temporary or permanent adverse health effects. Scars, loss of skin color, damage to body organs or systems, and malignant skin tumors may result. For example, exposure to coal tar can lead to a skin tumor. Liver and kidney damage may occur from exposure to solvents such as toluene and xylene.
The NIOSH guidance suggests employers manage the risks by:
- Assessing the risk for skin-related problems by identifying the chemicals used in the workplace. Do not neglect to consider chemicals that may be generated during the process.
- Identifying chemicals that pose a health risk through skin contact.
- Assessing the potential for skin exposure, considering the likelihood that chemicals can be absorbed into the body and the potential for direct skin contact with chemical agents in any form, such as vapor or liquid.
- Implementing a skin hazard prevention program.
- Documenting and monitoring the presence of skin-related problems through health surveillance activities. Establish a workplace surveillance program, conduct medical screening, and conduct biological monitoring.
- Preventing exposure to harmful chemicals by eliminating unnecessary chemicals from a work process, such as using disposable brushes rather than cleaning them with a solvent. Also, replace a harmful chemical or product with one that is less harmful, such as a water-based product in place of a solvent-based one.
- Controlling chemical exposure to the skin by modifying a process to eliminate chemical exposure, such as using a mechanical cleaner rather than hand-cleaning metal parts during repair operations. Also, reduce airborne exposures by adding local or general ventilation.
NIOSH has developed a new system to assign multiple hazard-specific skin notations to help workers and occupational health professionals understand the health risks of skin exposures to hazardous chemicals. The hazard-specific skin notations will appear in future NIOSH publications, including the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, and will identify the major health effects associated with skin contact.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
February 9, 2012
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