Maintaining healthy hands on the job delivers important benefits in workplaces where employees
encounter tough soils, according to
James W. Arbogast, Ph.D., vice president
of skin care science and product
development for GOJO.
Whether their work is on factory floors,
automotive shops, or in outdoor environ-
ments, employees encounter tough soils
and skin irritants. Dirt, grit, irritants, and
harsh chemicals combine with heat, cold,
and other environmental factors to create
the perfect storm for occupational skin
A skin inflammation resulting from
exposure to irritants or allergens, contact
dermatitis can range from a slight red-
dening and itching to rashes and sores.
Contact dermatitis annually costs employ-
ers billions of dollars. Ongoing medical
care associated with the disease adds up
to more than $1.4 billion, according to
a study for The Society for Investigative
Dermatology and The Academy of
Dermatology Association1. The study also
showed contact dermatitis costs another
$500 million in productivity losses.
Arbogast said those who work in tough
soils conditions can tilt the scales back in
their favor in the battle against occupa-
tional skin disease.
“The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention estimates that more than 13
million U.S. workers are potentially
exposed to chemicals and other irritants
that absorb through the skin,” Arbogast
says. “These agents can cause a variety of
occupational skin diseases, including con-
tact dermatitis and system toxicity.”
The National Occupational Research
Agenda reports that once workers acquire
contact dermatitis, an estimated 75 per-
cent of the cases become chronic, requir-
ing ongoing medical care and affecting
workers’ well-being. It is important,
therefore, to reduce exposure to common
irritants, use products designed to clean
and condition tough-soiled hands, and
follow a healthy skin washing and skin
Arbogast says the first line of defense
is to become more aware of the hazards:
• Chemical Irritants — Metalworking
fluids, lubricants, oils, greases, solvents, paints, fiberglass, acids, and
even poorly formulated hand cleansers that include surfactants.
• Mechanical Abrasion — Machining,
milling, sanding, and grinding generate metal chips that are rough on the
fingertips and tend to abrade the skin,
• Physical Agents — Repeated exposure to heat, cold, water, and friction.
• Biological and Microbiological
Agents — Transmission by hand of
germs that may cause illness.
“When dealing with tough soils day in
and day out, workers need to use hand
cleaners and conditioners made for the
grease and grit they encounter on the
job,” Arbogast says. “Quality hand-clean-ing products are your main protection
against skin dehydration and potential
The Battle Against Occu e t O cu
Don’ts of Skin Care ...
• Never expose unprotected skin to harsh
• Never use harsh detergents, solvents, or chemicals such as gasoline, turpentine, or benzene to
clean your hands. Always use an approved skin
• Never eat, drink, or smoke with dirty hands.
Harmful chemicals can enter the body through
the mouth and could damage vital organs.
• Don’t use regular bar or lotion soap if your
hands are full of grease and grime. A weak soap
can cause you to scrub too hard to get your
hands clean. Use the appropriate hand cleaner.
• Don’t use abrasives or brushes that aren’t
designed for your skin. They can cause damage.
• Never wipe your hands on a dirty shop towel.
Shop towels can contain metal shavings or other
debris that can cut and damage hands.
• Never put dirty contaminated hands in gloves.
The gloves will trap the contaminants against the
skin, causing irritation and even permeation.
“Do’s and Don’ts” for Tough Soils Hand Hygiene
Do’s of Skin Care …
• Condition skin often: Before and
after work, and after each washing.
• Wash hands regularly.
• Wash with the right kind of cleaner.
Use the mildest – yet still effective –
cleaner to remove soils.
• Keep tools clean to help keep
• Wear PPE, including gloves, whenever possible to protect skin from
chemicals and other substances that
are harmful to your skin. If PPE is not
available, avoid contact with irritants.
• Change work clothes at least daily,
including overalls. Be sure to wash
work clothes separately from other
laundry so contaminants aren’t
spread to other clothing.
• Use chemicals as instructed.
• Observe and report changes in