It’s in your hands to prevent skin disorders this winter says Chris Brooks, technical product manager at Swarfega.
Working outdoors can make skin care a tricky issue, and in winter, looking after the hands can be even harder – but it is more important than ever.
With winter weather, the risks to hands are increased, as is the prevalence of occupational skin disorders (OSDs) – a real threat for those in the trade. For builders, the hands are the most important tools of the job, so looking after them is vital. Good skin care should be one of the core aspects of health and safety, and so proper and regular handwashing is necessary, especially on site.
OSDs affect a huge number of people who work with their hands and more awareness needs to be raised around this issue in the trades. In fact, around 40 per cent of workers will be affected at some point in their career according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in the US. Dry, cracked and sore skin may be a common sight for construction workers, but it isn’t something to suffer through – it can lead to seriously unpleasant, long-term skin disorders such as eczema or dermatitis.
One of the reasons OSDs are particularly prevalent among builders is the frequent contact with dirt and contaminants, and the constant strain the hands are put through shifting heavy, rough materials onsite. Contact with contaminants via surfaces or tools can soon take its toll, and if the hands are damp or wet for prolonged periods of time, without use of proper skin care products, you run the risk of developing an OSD.
OSDs are particularly prevalent during the winter months as the cold and wet weather can be particularly harsh on skin. A porous organ, the skin is constantly losing water vapour via evaporation into the surrounding environment. When the air is cooler and the humidity drops, moisture in the skin tends to evaporate more quickly, leaving it drier – even more so if it is windy, and you are exposed to the elements on the job! Coupled with the use of car or van heaters during the winter months, your hands can be left in seriously poor condition. Although necessary for keeping you warm on the move, heaters can actually end up accelerating the skin’s moisture loss.
Whilst handwashing is key for healthy skin, employees should also be aware of using overly hot water in winter. This can also dehydrate skin, as the heat can strip it of protective oils – potentially exacerbating a skin disorder even further.
Good skin care in winter is therefore essential. When protecting skin on the hands, the skin care experts at Swarfega recommend a three-step approach; protection, cleansing and restoring:
- Before digging in to the nearest cleaner to hand, consider the kind of soiling you need to clean from the hands. There are varying strengths and types of hand cleaner available, and you should aim for the mildest cleaner that will get your hands clean, to avoid stripping any natural oils from the skin.
- Facing more ingrained soilings? For construction workers, this isn’t unusual. Try a hand cleaner with a non-abrasive scrubber which gives a deep clean.
- Whatever you do, avoid homemade hand cleaners – washing up liquid and sugar is a common culprit. It may work for you a couple of times, but is likely to lead to damaged skin in the long run.
- Always begin work with a protection cream – this will make the hands easier to clean at the end of a shift and strengthen the skin. This in turn, is kinder on the skin in cold weather.
- Finish work with a moisturising cream which will help replenish the skin and restore its essential oils – perhaps the most important step in winter!
For employers too, the prevention of OSDs should be a top priority. Each unreported case of dermatitis is estimated to cost a business £6000 according to Contact Dermatitis – so the provision of quality skin care products onsite is vital. The lack of proper skin care products is a common complaint amongst construction employees, with hand cleaners that are not fit for purpose often being installed.
A combined approach with all three steps is the best way to protect the skin against harsh winter weather, particularly for those who work outdoors or on the move.