Identify Skin Conditions – Roberts Jackson’s Guide to Dermatitis at Work
Many people are aware of eczema as a common skin condition that can affect people for many reasons but what about if the root of the problem is your job? Eczema is a condition that is grouped under the broad term for skin conditions – dermatitis. If it has already been established that your work is causing skin problems you may well have already been diagnosed with “occupational dermatitis”.
In 1995 it was estimated that there were 50,000 newly reported cases of occupational dermatitis which costs employers around £20m a year in damages and legal fees. Coincidently in the same year, the Conditional Fee Agreements (more commonly known as No Win, No Fee agreements) were introduced. After these developments, have employers improved their employees working conditions which cause occupational dermititis?
In short, the answer is no. At Roberts Jackson, we handle hundreds of occupational dermatitis cases at any one time. The number of cases in this growing area sheds light on this pressing issue and highlights why raising awareness of occupational dermatitis is so important for employers and employees alike. It is now estimated that the figures for occupational dermatitis being caused or made worse by work stands at a staggering 84,000 *(reference http://www.hse.gov.uk/food/dermatitis.htm ). These figures highlight a concerning trend but to establish what is causing the rise in reported cases we must first look at some of the legalities surrounding the condition and what employers are required to do for their staff.
Typically, there are two recognised types of occupational dermatitis – Irritant Contact Dermatitis and Allergic Contact Dermatitis. The term dermatitis itself is defined as the swelling or irritation of the skin including pre-existing conditions such as eczema. With this in mind the two sub terms mentioned above (irritant and allergic) are interpreted in the following way – irritant is usually when a substance such as bleach or harmful chemicals, have penetrated the epidermis causing a painful reaction which can lead to swelling, redness, cracking and even bleeding of the skin. Allergic contact dermatitis arises due to the sensitisation an individual has to a specific substance(s). This may occur after an individual incident where a client is exposed or repeated exposure spanning a number of years.
Now the different forms have been established and we have explored the different ways to contract occupational dermatitis, it is worth listing the industries where employers are at higher risk of developing the condition:
- Health Care
This list is non-exhaustive and these are merely to highlight the common areas we come across on a day to day basis.
It is clear from these industries that the high levels of cases being reported are due to specific substances that are commonly used by workers in these areas of work. Some high risk substances are as follows:
- Cement, plaster & concrete
- Strong acids & alkalis
- Metalworking fluid
- Dyes/Hair Dyes
Again, this list is non-exhaustive and it is worth taking into account, especially where allergic contact is concerned, that certain individuals react to different substances in various ways.
We have outlined the general terms used for dermatitis and explored the industries and substances that are most likely to cause occupational dermatitis, next we must establish what steps employees and employers can take to reduce the number of incidents we see in the UK annually.
Common law states that “An employer may be personally liable to an injured employee on the basis of (a) Common law negligence; and/or (b) breach of statutory duty, for example under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA 1974), the occupiers Liability Act 1957 (OLA 1957), or European Directives covering safety by way of regulations under the HSWA 1974.” But what does this actually mean and how does this apply to the contraction of dermatitis in the work place?
Quite simply put, your employer has a duty of care to protect its employees under common law but it also means employees are obligated to follow the Health and Safety Act, Occupiers Liability Act or both. In addition to civil liability, any employer who breaches Health and Safety Regulations may face criminal prosecution.
Recently there have been significant changes in the laws surrounding all Employers’ Liability claims, including occupational dermatitis cases, namely the introduction of the Enterprise Act. Claims for occupational dermatitis were typically, fairly straightforward and a breach of duty relatively easy to establish until the introduction of this Act. The case of Dugmore v Swansea NHS Trust (2004) gave way to strict liability precedence under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002. It was deemed that, employers had to ensure that employees were completely protected from exposure to ‘hazardous’ substances at work. However now, with the introduction of the Enterprise Act, foreseeability plays a part in all occupational dermatitis claims meaning that it is advisable to report, log and diagnose any condition that you believe has been caused by your occupation or a substance you work with. For employers it is advised that formal training be given to new employees and this is monitored for refresher training along with the providing adequate personal protective equipment for all staff that has been tried and tested.
Now that you are aware that work can affect your eczema (or any other skin condition) we would urge you to monitor the condition carefully and ensure that your occupation or anything you may come into contact with doesn’t make your skin worse. If you are in doubt or would like some free legal advice you can speak to Roberts Jackson Solicitors by calling our Freephone 0800 001 4496.