Dermatitis at Work
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government issued advice on how to wash your hands properly – good, well balanced soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It’s not new, but it is effective. But what about the increased use of hand sanitisers? Hand sanitisers will contain ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerol and water.
If you use hand sanitiser at work and have sensitive skin, or if you have to use hand sanitiser excessively, it can cause irritant contact dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis. Both conditions can be incredibly painful and have a major impact upon your home, social and working life. If you have irritant contact dermatitis then removal of the irritant is key. Once the irritant is removed, and avoided, a recovery can usually be made. If the condition is allergic then this can be a more complex situation and could be lifelong.
Your employer has duties to protect you and to make sure that you do not develop irritant contact dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis. There are laws in place for your employer to follow and to protect you. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002 (COSHH) covers this situation. Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations your employer must:
- Assess the risk posed to you by the hand sanitiser (Reg. 6);
- Prevent or control your exposure to the risk (Reg. 7);
- Ensure that control measures to achieve protection are properly used (Reg. 8);
- Maintain, examine and test the control measures (Reg. 9);
- Monitor your exposure to hand sanitiser (Reg. 10);
- Provide health surveillance (Reg. 11);
- Provide information, instruction and training relevant to your exposure and what they are doing to control it (Reg. 12).
What does this mean in practice, during a pandemic when everyone is telling you that you must constantly keep your hands clean? Well, your employer should be carrying out a risk assessment on the measures to control the spread of the virus, but must also comply with the duties they would have even if there was no pandemic. If your employer has introduced a substance hazardous to health they must still comply with COSHH. In order to do so, in relation to hand sanitisers, they should be:
- Carrying out a full and proper risk assessment on the deployment and use of hand sanitiser to see how and when it will be used and the risks arising from this use;
- Preventing you from having to sanitise your hands, so allowing you to work from home, thereby avoiding the issue;
- If it cannot be avoided it must be controlled, such as providing you with gloves (which also should not contain any substances hazardous to you), safe systems of work to help you minimise the washing of hands and allowing you to work from home;
- Any measures in place, such as safe systems of work and gloves provided should be; reviewed to ensure that they are doing the job of protecting you and not ripping or failing in any way;
- Monitoring your use of the hand sanitisers to make sure this is not excessive;
- Asking about your hands to make sure any issues are quickly identified and any damage can be stopped;
- Providing you with information on what is in the hand sanitiser, what might cause you problems, what those problems might be, such as dermatitis, and what you should be doing to protect yourself and how to report issues you have.
Unfortunately, many employers prior to the pandemic had significant failings in their understanding of the application of COSHH. The pandemic provided an excellent opportunity for employers to get to grips with this legislation but many have simply rushed out to buy whatever they thought they needed and will have failed to carry out any of their duties under COSHH. If they have failed in their duties to you, and you have developed dermatitis as a result of using hand sanitiser at work, you may have a claim against your employer.
For a no obligation discussion, please contact me directly via kevin.digby@GAsolicitors.com or by calling 01752 203500.