Skin Hazards

Work-related skin disease can affect people in a wide range of occupations.  It can be caused or exacerbated through exposure to a physical, chemical or biological agent or mechanical force.

Occupational skin disease is caused by contact and it follows that where there is no contact there is no contact skin disease. Based on this premise, occupational skin disease is therefore preventable and is subject to the same risk management controls as other health and safety risks.

Health and Safety Executive list of causative agents for contact dermatitis and occupations at risk is given below:

Example occupations Examples of irritants  Examples of sensitisers 
Agricultural workers Artificial fertilisers; cleaning products; diesel; disinfectants; dust including soil and food products; gasoline; oils; pesticides; plants; solvents; wet-work. Animal feeds; barley; cement; fungicides; germicidal products; oats; plants; pesticides; veterinary medications; wood dust; preservatives; wool.
Bakers Acids; detergents; wet-work. Ammonium persulphate; benzoyl peroxide; dyes; essential oils; enzymes; flavours; flour; some fruits.
Bartenders Detergents; disinfectants; scale- removers; wet-work. Formaldehyde; some fruits.
Beauticians  (Nails) Dusts; acetone; disinfectants. Ethylmethacrylate; methylmethacrylate.
Butchers and abattoir workers Acids and alkalis; detergents; waste products; wet-work. Animal proteins; formaldehyde; latex rubber protein; nickel; sawdust.
Cabinet makers and carpenters Detergents; glues; solvents; thinners; wood dust; wood preservatives. Colophony; dyes; fungicides; glues; turpentine; varnishes; wood dust.
Carpet layers Adhesives; dusts. Adhesives; mites; fungus; animal waste.
Cleaners Detergents; other cleaning products; solvents; wet-work. Formaldehyde; germicidal agents.
Construction workers Cement; dusts; solvents; sand; wet-work; building materials. Cement; chromium; chromium compounds, cobalt; epoxy resins; nickel; resins; thiuram  in gloves, wood dust.
Cooks and caterers Acids and alkalis; bleaching agents; detergents; vegetable juices; wet-work.  Flavours (some types); formaldehyde; garlic; sodium metabisulphite; spices (some).
Dentists and dental technicians Detergents; wet-work. Dental impression material; disinfectants; eugenol; local anaesthetics (some); mercury; methacrylates; latex rubber free protein.
Doctors, nurses and others Disinfectants; detergents; wet-work. Latex gloves; Some anaesthetics, antibiotics and antiseptics; phenothiazines; formaldehyde; glutaraldehyde; liquid chloroxylenol.
Electricians Fibre glass; soldering fluxes. Epoxy resins; rubber; isocyanates; soldering fluxes; dusts.
Floor-layers Solvents. Cement; epoxy resins; house mites; wood; wood dust.
Florists and gardeners Compost; fertilisers; pesticides; wet-work; soil; preservatives. Plants; pesticides; insecticides.
Foundry workers Dust; sand. Chromium; cobalt; nickel; phenol/urea-formaldehyde resins.
Hairdressers Bleaching agents; dyes; permanent wave solutions; shampoos; wet-work. Dyes; nickel; persulphates; perfumes; latex rubber protein; amine based chemicals, including parphenylene diamine (ppd).
Hospital and care home workers Detergents; disinfectants; wet-work. Latex rubber protein; medicines.
Metal workers Cutting oils /fluids; solvents; metal shavings/dusts. Additives/preservatives in cutting fluids; chromium; nickel.
Mechanics Cleaners; diesel; gasoline; greases; oils; solvents. Chromium; epoxy resin; nickel.
Motor vehicle repairers Aggressive hand cleaning products; fuels; oils; paints; solvents. Chromium; cobalt; epoxy resins; nickel.
Painters Aggressive hand cleaners; solvents; thinners; wallpaper adhesives including antibacterial/mould agents. Turpentine; thinners; chromium; formaldehyde; epoxy products; polyester resins.
Photographic industry workers Solvents; wet-work. Chromium; colour developers; para-aminophenol; formaldehyde; hydroquinone; sodium metabisulphite.
Printers Solvents. Colophony; formaldehyde; metals in resins/inks; resins and hardeners; turpentine.
Rubber products workers Solvents; talc; uncured rubber; zinc stearate. Colophony; dyes; rubber conditioning chemicals; different amines and epoxy resins.
Veterinarians Disinfectants; wet-work. Some anaesthetics, antibiotics and antiseptics; chloroxylenol; formaldehyde; glutaraldehyde; latex

Examples of causes of contact urticaria and occupations where they occur

Agents Type of workers
Foods, spices, herbs Cooks, food preparation workers, other kitchen workers
Food additives, eg: Cinamic acid, benzaldehyde, benzoic acid, albumin Cooks, food preparation workers, other kitchen workers, bakers and millers
Animal hair Animal husbandry worker, veterinarians and nurses, laboratory workers
Latex proteins Health care workers, animal husbandry workers, veterinarians, laboratory workers
Topical drugs Health care workers, pharmaceutical workers
Disinfectants Hair dressers, cleaners, kitchen staff
Resins Construction workers, resin manufacturing, printers, nail technicians
Chemicals used in rubber production Rubber processing workers

Examples of agents that cause skin cancer and occupations where they occur

Agents Type of work
UV rays from the sun Outdoor work
Coal tar and derivatives Coal tar handling, coal gasification, coal tar distillation
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) Petroleum refining, coal tar distillation
Ionising radiation Radiation-related work
Arsenic Metal ore handling and smelting, pesticide manufacturing
Coke Coke processing
Soot Chimney cleaning

Is Health Surveillance required?

Skin surveillance is a required under Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations or the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations where:

  • Is the work known to damage health in some particular way
  • There are reliable ways of detecting the disease or condition
  • It is reasonable likely that damage to health may occur under the particular conditions at work; and
  • Surveillance is likely to benefit the employee

You may have a problem with occupational skin disease if:

  • Substances with associated R-phrases (see below) are being handled; or
  • Substances with irritant or corrosive signs are being handled; and
  • Workers come into frequent contact with the hazardous substances on a daily basis;


  • Workers hands come into frequent and repeated contact with water due to the work they do (e.g. more than 2 hours per day or more than 20 times per day)


  • Workers hands come into frequent contact with plants, flowers or animal products

Warning signs and R-phrases identify skin hazards:

  • R21 – harmful in contact with the skin
  • R24 – toxic in contact with the skin
  • R27 – very toxic in contact with the skin
  • R38 – irritating to skin
  • R39/24 – Toxic: danger of very serious irreversible effects in contact with skin
  • R39/27 – Very Toxic: danger of very serious irreversible effects in contact with skin
  • R43 – May cause sensitisation by skin contact
  • R48/21 – Harmful: danger of serious damage to health by prolonged exposure with skin
  • R48/24 – Toxic: danger of serious damage to health by prolonged exposure in contact with skin
  • R68/21- Harmful: possible risk of irreversible effects in contact with skin

Is it a legal requirement? 

This depends on the results of your risk assessments.

Health surveillance is required under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations where the exposure meets the criteria discussed above.

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