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AT-A-GLANCE

AT-A-GLANCE

  • Occupational skin diseases are the second most common occupational illness accounting for approximately 15% of occupational illnesses.*

  • The vast majority of occupational skin diseases are occupational contact dermatoses (irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis), with approximately 80% of cases occurring on the hands.

  • Workers in the natural resources and mining, manufacturing, and education and health services have the highest rates of reported skin diseases and disorders.

  • Occupational exposures (ultraviolet radiation and chemical carcinogens) can have a significant role in skin cancer development, which is a major public health concern.

  • Personal protective equipment should be the last consideration in addressing occupational skin hazards.

*Disclaimer: The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or policies of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), the Department of Defense (DoD), or the Departments of the Army, Navy, or Air Force. Mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

INTRODUCTION

BACKGROUND

Occupational skin diseases (OSDs) are a category of skin conditions caused or aggravated primarily by workplace factors. Occupational skin diseases are common and also contribute to significant economic costs. An estimate as high as $1 billion is associated with the burden of workplace skin diseases in the US annually.1,2 In addition, OSDs may have unique implications. Federal agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have mandated criteria for recording occupationally related injuries and illnesses by the employer, and the determination of work-relatedness may result in the involvement of a workers’ compensation system. Thus, a thorough knowledge of contributing factors to OSDs is vital for the timely treatment and prevention of these skin conditions to return patients and employees back to work.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Occupational skin diseases have existed throughout history. Even in antiquity, the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BCE) described the cutaneous manifestations of Bacillus anthracis exposure in sheepmen.3 However, it was centuries later that the Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini (1633-1714), recognized as “the Father of Occupational Medicine,” would document his pioneering observations of various occupational diseases in De Morbis Artificum Diatriba (Diseases of Workers). In regard to OSDs, Ramazzini observed leg ulcers in fishermen, fissures and inflammation of the hands in laundrywomen, and skin eruptions in grain workers among others.4 Although Ramazzini described associations between occupation and disease, further work identifying the causal relationship between the 2 has been the impetus for labor laws and reform. One classic example was the identification of scrotal cancer in chimney sweepers by Sir Percivall Pott (1714-1788), a British surgeon. Pott recognized that chronic exposure to soot (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) lodged in the rugae led to scrotal cancer; and, in 1788, Pott’s work led to the first of many Chimney Sweeps Acts ...

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