Occupational Skin Diseases

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 13 million workers are exposed to chemicals nationwide. Tragically, this exposure leads thousands to contract occupational skin diseases (OSD) from chemicals absorbed through the skin. In the past, officials have focused primarily on the side effects of inhaling hazardous agents. As a result standardized assessment methods are not nearly as well developed for measuring skin exposures. Still, many OSDs are covered by North Carolina’s workers’ compensation laws, so if you or a loved one suffered an occupational skin disease as a result of exposure to harmful chemicals while on the job, it is vital to retain a skilled and experienced Charlotte workers’ compensation attorney who can explain the process of filing for workers’ compensation benefits.

Important Functions

The skin is an extremely important organ and fulfills a variety of important functions, such as:

  • Temperature control;
  • Protection;
  • Shock absorption;
  • Tactile sensation;
  • Vitamin D synthesis; and
  • Calorie reservation.

When exposed to certain types of harmful chemicals, the body is unable to effectively complete these tasks, which can have devastating effects on a person’s health.

Dangerous Occupations 

Some workers are more at risk of suffering from skin diseases, including those who work for the following industries:

  • Construction;
  • Cleaning;
  • Cosmetology;
  • Mechanics;
  • Food service;
  • Agriculture;
  • Painting;
  • Printing; and
  • Health care.

Because chemicals are often used in these industries, workers employed in these occupations are more likely to come into contact with hazardous chemicals through one of the following methods of exposure:

  • Direct contact with a contaminated surface;
  • Absorption through the skin;
  • Splashes; and
  • Accumulation of aerosols.

Dermal Absorption 

Of these methods, dermal absorption is one of the most common and dangerous as it can occur without being noticed by the worker. Dermal absorption is the transport of a chemical from the surface of a person’s skin into the body via absorption into the skin. For example, common chemicals, such as pesticides can have deadly consequences if they penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream.

The ease with which a chemical can enter the bloodstream depends on a number of different factors, including:

  • Whether a person’s skin is damaged or intact;
  • The location of contact;
  • The temperature of the skin;
  • The specific properties of the chemical;
  • The amount of the chemical that contacts the skin;
  • The length of time a person is exposed; and
  • The total area of skin exposed to the chemical.

Types of Chemicals 

Generally, there are two types of chemical agents that cause skin diseases and disorders through exposure, including:

  • Primary, or direct irritants, which act directly on the surface of the skin through chemical reactions; and
  • Sensitizers, which usually do not cause an immediate reaction, but can cause allergic reactions after repeated exposure.

Although chemical agents are one of the primary causes of skin disorders, workers can contract a skin disease through other methods, including:

  • Exposure to extreme temperatures and UV rays or solar radiation;
  • Trauma from friction, pressure, scrapes, bruises, and cuts; and
  • Exposure to biological agents, such as parasites and microorganisms.

Types of Occupational Skin Disease

OSDs are one of the most common types of occupational disease covered by workers’ compensation and can occur in a variety of forms, including:

  • Skin injuries;
  • Skin infections;
  • Skin cancers;
  • Irritant contact dermatitis;
  • Allergic contact dermatitis; and
  • Miscellaneous skin diseases.

Of these forms of skin disease, contact dermatitis, which is characterized by inflammation of the skin, is the most common. Also known as eczema, contact dermatitis makes up the majority of occupational skin diseases and usually manifests through the following symptoms:

  • The formation of blisters;
  • Dry and cracked skin;
  • Itching and pain;
  • Redness; and
  • Swelling.

There are two main types of contact dermatitis, the first of which is known as irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) and is caused by damage inflicted through a chemical’s direct contact with the skin. ICD makes up the majority of eczema cases and can be the result of coming into contact with highly irritating substances, such as acids, as well as chronic exposure to more mild chemicals, such as detergents and weak cleaning supplies. The other form of contact dermatitis is referred to as allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) and is the result of dermal contact with a skin allergen. Unlike ICD, this type of contact dermatitis is not confined to the site of contact and can spread across the entire body. ACD is most often caused by contact with industrial compounds and pesticides or fertilizers. It can be difficult to differentiate between the two forms of contact dermatitis without undergoing clinical testing.

Methods of Treatment

For minor cases of contact dermatitis, the afflicted person may be able to treat the area by washing it with cold water and mild soap followed by the application of hydrocortisone cream. More severe cases involving blisters may require the application of a cool compress three times a day. Itching can also be soothed through taking an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl. If a person’s condition persists or grows worse, he or she should see a doctor immediately as it may be necessary to take more aggressive action with prescription creams, strong medications, wet compresses, and antibiotics.

Contact a Dedicated Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Attorney Today 

Occupational skin diseases can be painful and dangerous to a person’s health. Severe cases can make working difficult or impossible and seeking treatment can be both time-consuming and expensive. Fortunately, skin disorders are covered by workers’ compensation, so it is possible for an employee who contracted an ailment to collect compensation for lost wages and medical expenses. Suffering an injury while on the job can take a significant physical, emotional, and financial toll on a worker and his or her family, so if you live in or near Charlotte and were injured at work, please contact the law firm of Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. by completing one of our standard contact forms and a member of our legal team will help you set up a free consultation with a skilled Charlotte workers compensation attorney who can walk you through the process of filing a workers’ compensation claim.