Occupational Skin Disease (OSD)
Occupational Skin Disease (OSD) refers to inflammation of the skin, most commonly on the hands but also sometimes involving the arms, feet and face, which is caused by contact with substances in the workplace.
We speak to Associate Professor Rosemary Nixon, Director of Occupational Dermatology Research and Education Centre (ODREC), about her work and the work of ODREC.
EGO: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Can you tell us about ODREC?
RN: The Occupational Dermatology Research and Education Centre was established at the Skin and Cancer Foundation, Victoria in March 2001. ODREC has established an international reputation through both running the Occupational Dermatology Clinic and its research activities. Our aim is to reduce the incidence and impact of OCD in Australia, through research and education about work related skin diseases.
EGO: Can you tell us about some of the research you have conducted on Occupational Skin Disease (OSD)?
RN: In a study just published in the Australian Journal of Dermatology in 2015, we described the characteristics of 2894 patients with OCD assessed over an18-year period. We were able to confirm the importance of OCD as the most common cause of occupational skin disease (OSD), with irritant contact dermatitis being the most common diagnosis. And for the first time in Australia, we were able to calculate the rates of OSD in certain industries. This was the largest study to date describing the clinical characteristics and risk factors for OCD in Australia.
EGO: And did the rates of OSD differ across different industries?
RN: We found that hair and beauty workers were most at risk of Occupational Skin Disease (OSD) followed by machine and plant operators, health-care workers and automobile workers.
We also found a higher incidence of irritant contact dermatitis than allergic contact dermatitis in most occupational groups, with the exception of hair and beauty workers and machine and plant operators, who have an increased exposure to skin allergens.
EGO: Could you tell us the difference between irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis and are they mutually exclusive?
RN: Irritant contact dermatitis is a form of contact dermatitis in which the skin barrier is impaired by repeated exposure to water, soaps, detergents or chemicals such as acids, alkalis and solvents; physical factors such as friction and environmental factors such as heat and sweating. Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when an external chemical or physical agent damages the surface of the skin faster than the skin is able to repair the damage.
Allergic contact dermatitis is an itchy skin condition caused by skin contact with a specific allergen, following sensitization to the allergen. The rash arises some hours after contact with the responsible allergen, and settles down over some days providing the skin is no longer in contact with the allergen.
Irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis are certainly not mutually exclusive! Our research has highlighted the fact that there are often multiple contributing causes of occupational dermatitis. duration of skin contact and the concentration of the allergen, and individual susceptibility.
EGO: What can organisations and individuals do to help reduce the incidence of Occupational Skin Disease (OSD)?
RN: There isn’t any specific OH&S legislation dealing with OSD, so the first step that organisations can do is to take OSD more seriously under their duty of care.
The workplace culture certainly impacts upon the development of contact dermatitis. If the workplace culture is focused towards the prevention of occupational disease, including substitution of hazardous chemicals, then personal protective equipment (PPE) is more likely to be used appropriately.
On an individual level, one should avoid exposure to skin irritants: frequent use of soaps and continual wetting and drying the skin are important causes of skin irritation. Use of moisturising cream especially after work, is also important, to both treat and prevent OCD.
EGO: Thank you, your responses have been invaluable to getting a better grasp of OSD. Where can we go to find out more about OSD?
RN: The ODREC website www.occderm.asn.au is an excellent resource for information about OSD. Thank you for having me.
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