Major industries in California, such as agriculture, construction and food service, rank high in potential risks for exposing workers to skin irritants. When chemicals and other agents come into contact with a worker’s skin, rashes, infections, injuries and systemic toxicity could occur. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skin diseases caused by workplace activities are the second most common type of occupational diseases.
Although the threat of inhaling hazardous substances has been addressed across many occupations, the CDC states that standardized evaluations of skin problems have not been developed, which impedes assessment of workplace risks. Among skin illnesses, contact dermatitis accounts for the majority of problems. This skin condition, better known as eczema, can be caused by either toxic irritation or allergic reaction. Itching, redness, swelling, pain and blisters indicate the condition. Contact dermatitis alone produces annual costs of over $1 billion.
Another category of skin diseases is dermal absorption in which toxic agents penetrate the skin and enter the worker’s body. Long term, toxins like pesticides and solvents can build up in a person and cause systemic toxicity linked to health problems. The worker may not be aware of the chemical absorption or feel the health effects until later.
Because a worker may not immediately realize an occupational hazard is the source of a skin disease, reporting it as a workplace illness could be difficult. To collect workers’ compensation benefits to pay for treatment, a worker needs to report an accident or injury to the employer. Cumulative injuries like skin exposures might cause an employer or insurance company to deny that the workplace caused the health problem. An attorney might be able to advise a worker on how to document such an illness and obtain benefits.