Environmental service professionals are some of the unsung heroes in every facility. Without them, rooms would be left contaminated and patients would be at greater risk of contracting HAI's.
Exposure to dirt and filth is inevitable. Germs and bacteria are an issue, and there’s frequent contact with both water and chemicals. All these can be a threat to the skin of environmental service professionals – with serious consequences for their health and well-being.
Skin disorders – one of the most common work-related problems
Skin problems in the workplace are collectively known as occupational skin disorders. They can range from mild, short-term skin irritations to serious conditions such as occupational dermatitis, friction callosity (the skin’s reaction to friction and pressure), or infectious skin diseases (compromised skin is much more likely to absorb the pathogens that cause bacterial, viral or fungal infections). The most prevalent type of skin disorder reported in the workplace is occupational dermatitis. The symptoms and the seriousness of the condition vary widely, depending on the type and length of exposure to an irritant, as well as the susceptibility of the person concerned.
Environmental Service Professionals run a high risk of contracting skin conditions such as occupational dermatitis for two reasons: cleaning involves a lot of “wet work” – activities that require repeated exposure to or immersion in water. And it exposes the skin to a wide variety of chemicals: floor and window cleaners, preservatives, ammonia, solvents, degreasers, and bleach can all act as irritants.
What can be done to prevent occupational dermatitis in the cleaning profession?
Effective prevention of occupational dermatitis requires full cooperation between everyone involved but the prime responsibility lies with the employer. All current legislation relating to skin safety in the workplace derives from the Health and Safety Work Act, which requires employers to conduct risk assessments and introduce appropriate procedures to remove or minimize the identified risks.
One of the most effective contributions to the successful prevention of occupational dermatitis in the workplace is the implementation of a structured skin care program. Where it is not possible to protect the skin of cleaning professionals against workplace contaminants, cleaning and taking care of the hands is an important part of the developing a proactive, holistic stance against occupational dermatitis.
Implementing a 3-step skin care system: Cleanse, Sanitize and Restore
A proven 3-step approach to skin care identifies four crucial moments for treatment of the skin: using appropriate hand cleansers regularly after contamination; hand sanitizing where running water is not immediately accessible; and applying restorative lotions throughout the day.
Restorative products are a crucial element of any skin care programs for cleaning professionals. Restorative creams and lotions, moisturize, nourish and condition the skin, improving its strength and preventing it from becoming dry or damaged.
Education is crucial to successfully prevent occupational dermatitis
But it’s not enough to put the right products in the right places. The accessibility of soaps and lotions can only go so far – if a skin care program doesn’t include a dedicated program of education and training. Employers need to make a real effort to inform their staff about the seriousness of occupational skin disorders, and about the steps they can take to avoid being affected.
Compliance is crucial to the success of any skin care program. To achieve this staff need to be aware of much more than the fact that skin care products are available. When should soap and water be used, when is a sanitizer more appropriate? What is the correct technique for either? What are the key moments during the day to re-apply a restorative lotion? What is the right amount of lotion to use?
Hands-on training sessions, instructional multimedia programs, and regular staff meetings can help to make sure that the effort to combat the threat of occupational skin disease is not just a one-off event that is quickly forgotten about – but an ongoing conversation.
Serious consequences – or real benefits
Neglecting the skin care of environmental service professionals can have serious consequences for an employer. If staff are effected by occupational dermatitis or other skin issues, staff moral might suffer considerably, hand hygiene compliance can plummet, and staff absences might result in lost productivity. If news of staff being affected by occupational skin disorders spread, bad publicity is almost inevitable.
If, on the other hand, employers take the issue seriously, and implement a structured skin care program that includes both the right products and a dedicated program of education and training, they are putting themselves in the best possible position to keep their employees safe and healthy – protecting those who do so much to make sure that our patient and staff areas are sanitary and safe.
1.Source: WHO: http://www.who.int/ipcs/publications/ehc/ehc_242.pdf?ua=1
2. US Health and Safety, Healthcare. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/healthcarefacilities/index.html