Skin exposure to chemicals in the workplace is a significant problem in the US. Both the number of cases and the rate of skin disease in the US exceeds recordable respiratory illnesses. In 2010, 34,400 recordable skin diseases were reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) at a rate of 3.4 injuries per 10,000 employees, compared to 19,300 respiratory illnesses with a rate of 1.9 illnesses per 10,000 employees. [See Table 6a and Table 6b in Workplace Injuries and Illnesses - 2010 (PDF).
Most chemicals are readily absorbed through the skin and can cause other health effects and/or contribute to the dose absorbed by inhalation of the chemical from the air. Many studies indicate that absorption of chemicals through the skin can occur without being noticed by the worker. In many cases, skin is a more significant route of exposure than the lung. This is particularly true for non-volatile chemicals which are relatively toxic and which remain on work surfaces for long periods of time. The number of occupational illnesses caused by skin absorption of chemicals is not known. However, it is argued that an estimated 60,000 deaths and 860,000 occupational illnesses per year in the US attributed to occupational exposure, a relatively small percentage caused by skin exposure would represent a significant health risk.(1)
Dermal exposures are addressed in specific standards for the general industry, shipyard employment, marine terminals, the construction industry, and identification, classification, and regulation of carcinogens.
How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers' rights?
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers' rights under the OSH Act.
OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Small businesses may contact OSHA's free On-site Consultation services funded by OSHA to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites. To contact free consultation services, go to OSHA's On-site Consultation webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.
Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.
If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.
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