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Industrial Disease

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What’s The Causes Dermatitis?


There are two main types of dermatitis: irritant and allergic dermatitis.

Irritant contact dermatitis is seen to be the most common form of dermatitis and is caused by exposure to a substance that irritates the skin. Common causes include:

  • Frequent contact with water
  • Certain shampoos such as those used by cleaners and hairdressers.
  • Acids and alkalis . Builders experience this when working with cement
  • Certain plants and soil
  • Foods such as fruits, vegetables, spices, fish and meat.

Allergic dermatitis involves the immune system. The first time someone is exposed they might not experience or see a rash; however, the skin becomes sensitised so that the next exposure will trigger a severe rash. Exposure in the future may provoke a stronger response.

It takes only a small exposure of the substance for it to cause a skin rash.

Sufferers are not born with this allergy. A person must have to come into contact with the substance before which has sensitised the immune system. The skin starts to become inflamed and blister if the person touches or is exposed to the substance. It is not clear why some people are allergic to particular substances whereas other people are not, however common causes can be:

  • Nickel – the most common cause. Nickel is present in many types of clothes.
  • Dyes for hair
  • Commercial printing inks
  • Cement
  • Foods including flour and nuts
  • Glues and adhesives
  • Plants – chrysanthemums, daffodils, sunflowers and tulips

Types of Dermatitis

There are two forms of the condition: irritant and allergic occupational dermatitis.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

This form of dermatitis is caused by coming into direct exposure with a material that irritates the skin. Irritant contact dermatitis is common and accounts for approximately eight in ten cases. In most cases, the condition will develop quickly and affect the hands from just one exposure to a strong irritant, such as a strong chemical in a work environment. In other cases, a person may develop irritant from working with weaker irritants. This could be through contact with certain detergents (such as bleach or washing-up liquid), foods or plants. Irritant dermatitis is made worse when a someone is regularly exposed to an irritant of some kind and a vicious cycle of irritation and skin damage occurs, where an area of skin could be suffering with skin damage and once damaged, is more easily aggravated by irritants. Consequently, further contact, even with just a small amount of the substance, could cause greater inflammation and damage.

Common Causes of Allergic Dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the immune system reacts against a particular substance (called an allergen). People with allergic contact dermatitis may need only need to come into contact with a small amount of the allergen for it to cause a rash. Sufferers are not born with this allergy – it’s developed through prior contact with the allergen which in turn has sensitised the immune system. Once it’s sensitised, the skin will become inflamed if it comes into further contact with the substance. This is the reason why a person can suddenly develop a skin allergy to a substance they have come into contact with many times before. It isn’t clear why some people develop allergies to particular substances and others do not. A corticosteroid medication such as hydrocortisone may be prescribed by a doctor to fight the rash. This is typically applied as a cream or ointment. If the rash covers most of the person’s body or if it is particularly serious, then an injected or an oral steriod may be prescribed.

Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis

Irritant and allergic contact dermatitis are similar in appearance. The rash can be red and itchy and may escalate to blistering and scaling. The presence of fissures, as in most cases on fingertip dermatitis, usually means the sufferer is experiencing repeated or chronic exposure to the irritant or allergen. People with dermatitis have symptoms such as:

  • Redness
  • Stinging
  • Burning
  • Cracking
  • Scaling/flaking
  • Swelling
  • Weeping

Dermatitis may be an extremely painful condition that may at times become so bad that the sufferer cannot carry on working.

How’s Contact Dermatitis Diagnosed?

Diagnosis is normally made based on symptoms, medical history and an examination. Further blood tests are not often used because they are unhelpful. Contact dermatitis bears a strong resemblance to a skin condition called endogenous eczema. Careful examination of the distribution of skin lesions is needed to distinguish one from the other. Skin patch testing may sometimes be performed to discount other confounding conditions like psoriasis and ringworm.

Who is more Likely to Develop Dermatitis at Work?

Approximately eighty four thousand people experience dermatitis in the United Kingdom caused or made worse by their work. Anybody can suffer with dermatitis however some of the more common professions of sufferers include:

  • People working with food or in catering
  • Cleaners working with detergents or cleaners
  • Hairdressers working with strong dyes
  • Gardeners who work particularly with chrysanthemums, primroses, hellebores and primulas
  • Builders who come into contact with wet cement

Am I Entitled to Claim Compensation for Dermatitis?

If an employer hasn’t fulfilled their legal duty to ensure your well being at work and you feel that your dermatitis has been made worse or caused by your job, you could be eligible to make a claim for compensation. This compensation could recompense you for the suffering and pain you will be going through, including any financial setbacks if you are unable to work as a result of the dermatitis or medical treatment costs.

Is my Ex-Employer At Fault for my Occupational Dermatitis?

If an employer hasn’t fulfilled their legal duty to ensure your well being at work and you feel that your dermatitis has been made worse or caused by your job, you could be eligible to make a claim for compensation. Whatever the work you perform, your employer need to be doing frequent risk assessments and acting on any risks that arise. Should you require it your employer may need to offer you personal protective equipment, provide skin washes and moisturisers or use less irritating products to protect you from any danger whilst working with allergens.

How Can I Prove That I’ve Developed Dermatitis Through my Work?

If you believe you may have a claim for occupational dermatitis, which you feel has either been made worse or caused by your job, it is very important you speak to one of our expert occupational disease solicitors. At Mercury Legal Online, we’ll examine all evidence to determine the cause of the suffering and fight tirelessly to get you the compensation you deserve. Your employer has a legal obligation for your health and safety at work and if this obligation is not met, we will present a case that your employer is entirely responsible for your condition.

How can Occupational Dermatitis be Treated?

The easiest way to treat occupational dermatitis is to avoid the substance in the first place. However, there are a number of treatments that can help to clear the itchy and sore symptoms of dermatitis.

Moisturisers and Hand Washes

If your skin is not too bad then just regular use of an emollient might be all that you need to reduce the rash and eliminate the pain.

Steroids to Reduce the Symptoms

Medicated lotions and creams that contain steroid medicines. These kinds of treatments work by reducing the inflammation and come in several brands and strengths. A mild steroid cream (hydrocortisone) can be bought from pharmacies but if this doesn’t work, your doctor will be able to prescribe you a stronger one. These types of creams might take up to a fortnight to work; often it can take longer. However, once the redness has gone you should stop using it.

More Information

The National Eczema Society has a wealth of information on occupational dermatitis and other similar conditions. Visit eczema.org for more information

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Claiming For Industrial Disease 


Industrial disease claim

There are many different types of industrial diseases you can develop after being exposed to hazardous substances or dangerous conditions at work. To find out more view our media center.