Breathing and Skin Problems at Work

Not everyone reacts to the work environment in the same way. This is why some people may suffer from breathing and skin problems while others are unharmed. Nonetheless, it’s vital not to ignore the symptoms of any such disorders.

Occupational Respiratory Disease

Occupational respiratory disease has several possible causes. These include the presence of dust, fumes, vapour, gases, smoke and mist in the atmosphere at work.

Of course it may be difficult to avoid these substances. Dust may come from the Wood Waste in a timber yard, for instance; gas may occur as part of a welding or furnace process; or a chemical mist may drift into the lungs from Dangerous Substances such as cleaning products or pesticides.

A confined, hot workplace with poor ventilation adds to the problems. Anyone working in such an area should limit the time he or she spends there.

Initially, some substances irritate the respiratory system and cause cold or flu-like symptoms. Over time these symptoms may become more serious conditions. The most well known are asthma and emphysema.

Many adults who develop asthma may do so because of their work environment. The signs to look out for are tightness across the chest, a persistent cough, and wheezing.

Emphysema is usually associated with smoking. That said, anyone who has worked with asbestos, coal or silica for a prolonged time might contract the disease. The main symptom is shortness of breath.

At the first sign of a health problem related to occupational respiratory disease, the sufferer should speak to a doctor. The doctor may have difficulty pinpointing the cause at first so is likely to ask questions about the first appearance of the symptoms, their regularity, and your workplace.

It’s therefore useful if patients go to the doctor prepared. Workers who come into daily contact with chemicals, for example, should note the name of each one.

At the same time, workers should speak to supervisors or managers about their concerns. It may be possible to alleviate a problem by improving ventilation, using respirators or even changing work practices.

If an employer doesn’t address the matter, the problem can persist. The result is that both health and productivity suffer.

Occupational Skin Problems

Skin problems are the most common work-related medical disorders. Irritations, rashes, allergies and even cancer may result from exposure to oils, solvents, glues, plastics, dyes, heavy metals and acids.

If such exposure is a regular part of a job, an employer should supply suitable Protective Clothing such as gloves and overalls. Workers should also remove any contaminated clothes when they finish work; wash their hands or other vulnerable areas of skin with a proprietary cleanser; and apply a moisturiser or protective cream.

Just as importantly, workers should not clean their skin with turps or petrol. These can remove grease and oil quickly but may lead to unpleasant skin conditions.

Workers should also wash their hands thoroughly before eating during the day. Chemicals can easily transfer to food and cause internal as well as external problems.

People who work outdoors should use sunscreen and wear a hat, sunglasses and a long-sleeve shirt. This improves their chances of avoiding skin cancer.

Avoidance and Management

There are three main ways to avoid and manage breathing and skin problems at work. The first is to recognize and minimise the risk. The second is to take preventive measures such as wearing protective clothing and using masks. Finally, workers who believe they may have the symptoms of a problem should see a doctor immediately.

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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