Workers in various occupations pay special care to avoid stepping on a nail, slipping in spills, tripping over debris piles or falling down stairs while carrying things. Unfortunately, it is estimated that more than 13 million workers in the United States potentially suffer dermal exposure to hazardous chemicals at work.
Dermal exposure, or skin exposure, to hazardous materials can lead to severe conditions. Historically, protection against toxic exposure has focused heavily on preventing the inhalation or ingestion of the agent. While important, this isn’t the only hazard workers face. Contact with the skin can lead to occupational skin diseases and systemic toxicity.
What are the different types of OSD?
There are numerous ways in which workers can put themselves in danger. Cleaning up a spill without wearing the proper gear or spilling a substance directly onto unprotected skin can lead to direct contact. Depending on factors such as the type of agent, the type of exposure and the duration of exposure, workers can face:
- Irritant contact dermatitis
- Allergic contact dermatitis
- Skin cancer
- Skin infection
- Skin injuries
Contact dermatitis, also commonly called eczema, generates annual estimated costs exceeding $1 billion. It is one of the most common types of occupational illness typified by itching, pain, redness, swelling, small blisters and flaking skin.
What is dermal absorption?
While simple skin contact might lead to a rash, swelling or other surface injury, when a hazardous agent is absorbed into the body, more severe conditions might arise. A chemical or solvent used in the workplace might be absorbed through the skin and into the blood stream. This systemic toxicity can result in health problems away from the site of the original contact.
The rate of dermal absorption depends on several factors, including:
- Skin integrity (is the skin damaged by cuts or abrasions?)
- Location of exposure (skin thickness can vary around the body)
- Physical and chemical properties of the substance
- Concentration of the substance
- Duration of the exposure
Suffering an injury at work – no matter the context – can result in serious conditions. It is also possible that a work injury can lead to financial peril as individuals attempt to pay medical bills while also struggling to work through a serious injury.