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The risks of occupational skin diseases

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that more than 13 million employees are at risk of suffering a range of occupational illnesses and injuries because of exposure to chemicals. It is important for North Carolina workers in certain industries to be aware of their risk of exposure. Employees who are at the highest risk of skin exposure-related injury or illness are those who work in the health care, cosmetology, food service and agriculture industries. Other industries with a high risk include construction, painting, mechanics, cleaning and printing.

The second-most frequent kind of occupational disease reported is occupational skin diseases, costing more than $1 billion a year. They come in different forms, including injuries, infections, cancers, contact dermatitis and other skin diseases. Among these, contact dermatitis is the most common, occurring in about 90 to 95 percent of OSD cases. Workers with this condition may experience redness, pain, blisters, itching and dry, scaly skin.

There are two categories of contact dermatitis. Allergic contact dermatitis occurs with an immunologic reaction resulting from an allergen, such as chemicals and industrial compounds, coming into contact with the skin. Repeat exposure causes inflammation in the skin, and systemic responses may occur if the reaction spreads. Irritant contact dermatitis is inflamed skin from direct damage after continuous exposure to mildly irritating agents or acute exposure to extremely irritating agents. This type of contact dermatitis is reported in about 80 percent of work-related contact dermatitis cases.

In North Carolina, employees may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits when they suffer work-related illnesses or injuries resulting from skin exposure. This might cover their medical costs and reimburse them for lost wages. If the claim is denied, a workers' compensation attorney can provide representation during the appeals process.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Skin Exposures & Effects", December 29, 2014

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