Precautions to prevent skin exposure - Skin - Healthy Working Lives

Skin

Checks and precautions you can take to prevent damage to skin

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​As an employer you have a duty of care to protect your employees and yourself from workplace hazards. Employees also have a responsibility to protect themselves and others.

If not managed correctly, skin irritation problems can have a considerable​ impact on employees and organisations.

Use the links below to find information on common hazards to skin and precautions.

  1. Common hazards to skin
  2. Precautions to prevent skin exposure

2. Precautions to prevent skin exposure

There are a number of things you can do to help prevent or reduce the risk of exposure to skin.

  • Eliminate unnecessary chemicals from a work process. For example, use disposable brushes rather than cleaning them with a solvent. 
  • Replace a harmful chemical or product with one that is less harmful. For example, substitute a solvent-based product with a water-based one.
  • Modify a process to eliminate chemical exposure. For example, rather than hand-cleaning metal parts during repair operations, use a mechanical cleaner.
  • Ensure work is carried out in a well ventilated area by adding local or general ventilation to reduce airborne levels of chemicals.
  • Implement a safe working distance and enclose the process as much as possible.
  • Inform, instruct and train staff in use, handling and storage of substances and products

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have a publication on this topic which you can download from their website.

Visit the HSE site for the publication, Managing risks from skin exposure at work​

Carry out regular checks

If skin problems are likely in your workplace, you should appoint and train a responsible person to manage, monitor and record skin exposure. Checking skin regularly will help to spot the early signs of skin damage due to work exposures. The earlier the symptoms are spotted, the quicker it can be treated. 

You may need to carry out more formal health surveillance​.  

Duty of employees

Employees also have a duty to follow the employer’s instructions and control measures.

They should adopt a good personal skin hygiene regime to maintain healthy skin. They should

  • ​clean their skin with mild soap 
  • rinse and dry thoroughly 
  • use moisturiser. 

Protect the skin

Avoiding skin contact will not always be possible. In such cases you should provide suitable personal protective equipment to your employees, such as gloves or overalls.

Gloves

The use of gloves should not be the first or only precaution taken. It is however a very good temporary precaution while you make arrangements for proper protection. 

When providing gloves, it is important to make sure they are

  • ​the right size
  • stored correctly
  • replaced if damaged
  • removed and disposed of safely
  • the right type of material for the task and substance.

The HSE have a guide on their site for choosing the right gloves to protect skin. 

Visit the HSE site for a guide on choosing the right gloves​

Skincare products

As well as providing gloves or overalls, you can also protect the skin by providing skincare products. These can help to remove dirt and keep the skin hydrated and lubricated.

There are three main types of skincare products.

  • ​Pre and post work protective and moisturising creams – designed for use before starting work to provide a semi-resistant barrier between chemicals and the skin.
  • Skin cleansers – designed to remove contaminants from the skin.
  • Moisturisers – designed to replace lost moisture and oil in the skin.

Find out more

You can find out more about how to prevent work related skin disease at It’s in Your Hands.

​You can also find more information in our publication, Health risks at work.

Go to our Health risks at work publication​