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Home » Injured Workers » Frequently occurring workplace injuries » Acute occupational dermatitis

Acute occupational dermatitis




What is it?



Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin of the hand.


The skin forms a natural barrier protecting our body from the external environment. Dermatitis is the result of this barrier breaking down and can be caused by a variety of factors including physical irritation, by over exposure to water, by direct contact with solvents or chemicals, by allergic conditions (for example to Latex or Nickel), by constitutional causes, drugs and medications, or infections.


The skin may take some months to return to normal after all visible signs of dermatitis (particularly with contact or irritant dermatitis) have gone. In some cases (for example allergic dermatitis) the only cure is to prevent re-exposure to the causative agent.


Dermatitis patients with broken skin can be at increased risk of catching infectious diseases if they are involved in handling potentially infected substances.





Symptoms include redness, swelling, itching, cracking, weeping, blistering and pain.





Occupational dermatitis can be a common condition with workers who frequently get their hands wet, or have significant exposure to chemicals. Examples of such occupations include cleaners, nurses, hair dressers, and mechanics.



Key Points



Red flags


  • Systemic signs or symptoms

  • Significant interference with activities of daily living

  • Steroid use

  • Significant swelling

  • Severe, unremitting night time symptoms

  • Fever

  • Significant skin denudation/defoliation



Yellow flags


  • Attitudes and beliefs about pain/illness

  • Emotions

  • Behaviours

  • Family

  • Compensation issues

  • Work

  • Diagnostic and treatment issues

  • Workplace conflict



Possible Alternate Duties


  • Keep hands clean and dry

  • Avoid using soaps or detergents

  • Avoid skin exposure to oils, solvents and greases

  • Avoid skin exposure to irritant chemicals



When to Consider Referral for a Specialist Opinion


  • The presence of any red flag conditions

  • The worker has had more than two weeks certified unfit for duties, or more than one month on selected duties

  • The worker has had more than three weeks off work, or on selected duties and has significant yellow flag conditions

  • Not back at pre-injury duties within six weeks of the injury.

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