Dermatitis in the Catering Industry – do you know a sufferer? Is your employer doing enough?
Dermatitis is a skin condition that is caused by skin irritants and results in red, sore, dry and even cracked skin that can become infected and painful if not treated correctly.
This is can occur frequently in people who work within the catering industry due to the cleaning agents that are used and contact with water, as well as some food stuffs that can result in allergic reactions. As an employer, there is a duty to manage the risks posed to all employees, as detailed under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and expanded in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. Health surveillance is also necessary for staff where dermatitis is present.
With allergic reactions, the exact cause can be difficult to diagnose. It is important that the employer does not adopt generic management strategies for dermatitis without monitoring the outcomes, believing that this is suitable and sufficient.
A recent case relates to a school kitchen employee whom developed dermatitis. The employee in question experienced dry, weeping, broken patches of skin on both of her hands, which resulted in her needing to take time off from work. Already barrier cream was provided, and lined washing up gloves.
As dermatitis was still present, despite the controls, an investigation was conducted that concluded that the employee had a sensitivity to lettuce leaves; it was also discovered that she didn’t always wear gloves when using washing up liquid on a cloth to wipe surfaces, so this was factored in to the equation.
The outcome of the investigation was that the employee was provided with additional creams that she regularly applied to the affected areas; she avoided lettuce; and was closely monitored for all other safe systems of work. All other control measures that were already in place continued to be adopted. Her condition improved.
The benefits of undertaking a detailed investigation ensured that the employer was suitably fulfilling their duty of care by addressing the root cause of the problem. Additionally the benefits are avoidance of sick leave, costs of cover staff, and any subsequent claims.