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October 15, 2019

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Skin care

Global Handwashing Day: Employees urged to make time to care for their skin

Industrial employees face a unique skin care challenge. Exposure to a wide range of contaminants from general dirt and dust at the lighter end of the scale, to oil and grease in heavy industry, can take its toll on skin condition. However, what is clear is that the industrial workforce is facing a shifting landscape – with significant changes taking place over the last 50 years or so, has skin care caught up?

hand washingThis Global Handwashing Day, SC Johnson Professional is shedding light on the importance of appropriate, effective handwashing and its role in good skin care and the prevention of occupational skin disorders (OSDs). The company has conducted extensive research in a variety of industrial sites, with the objective of determining what exactly the modern industrial employee needed in terms of skin care.

Reaching out to manual workers, the research generated some surprising results. The findings highlighted that workplace hand cleaners have generally remained unchanged over the past few decades – heavy, solvent-based harsh cleaners were typically used in most handwashing situations. This is despite industrial workplaces becoming cleaner and safer as a result of increased Health and Safety controls and mechanisation, meaning these hand cleaners were redundant, and even unsafe for many employees.

Repeated use

Created for a now outmoded working environment, it was found that the cleaners were drying out and sensitising workers skin after repeated use. The employees surveyed, however, saw the poor condition of their hands as par for the course, and something to be suffered through in order to get their hands clean.

Generic washroom soaps were being used at the opposite end of the spectrum – products unfit for purpose in an industrial environment. Over-washing and contamination of the skin due to residual soilings was often the result, again significantly increasing the risk of workers developing OSDs.

Aside from inappropriate hand cleaners, other challenges in the workplaces surveyed included intermittent glove use and a lack of skin care training resulting in employees being unsure of how to care for their hands.

It has been found that OSDs can have a hugely detrimental impact on employee wellbeing. Cracked, sore and even bleeding skin on the hands can seriously impinge on the ability to carry out workplace tasks safely and efficiently – let alone something as simple as using a knife and fork. The physical discomfort of an OSD combined with the above can lead to a demoralised workforce – skin care should therefore be an important aspect of Health and Safety practices.

This was also reflected in employee feedback, in perhaps one of the more surprising findings from the research. Choosing between cleaners that were either too heavy or too light, workers needed products that were stronger than the average soap – but another important aspect for them was that this cleaner was also kind and caring to skin, unlike the old fashioned solvent based cleaners commonly seen in many workplaces.


Managers interviewed reiterated this, keen for quality, moisturising products to be supplied to their employees. The provision of such products would demonstrate management’s understanding of skin care and the need to promote a caring workplace that valued employee wellbeing.

Setting out to reflect these values in its new products, SC Johnson Professional began by developing new formulations through extensive testing. Researching how its products performed over repeated usage, skin condition was tested by measuring Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL) over a four-day period. With alternative products often resulting in a critical skin condition, SC Johnson Professional found that the new formulations could be applied continuously for five days whilst maintaining a healthy skin condition.

Natural scrubbers were also included for the ‘gritty’, heavier hand cleaners. Although often only necessary when cleaning large ‘macro’ soilings from the skin, these were included to appeal to users who felt that a scrubbing agent was necessary. Choosing smooth granules made from olive stones and cornmeal rather than harsher scrubbers such as pumice stone used in other products, makes the formulation as kind as possible to skin.

Risk of occupational skin disorders

Deb-GFX-ShootingWith the correct products, skin care in the modern industrial setting is an important way to not only promote physical health, but also positive wellbeing amongst employees. This Global Handwashing Day, it is important to raise awareness of the risk of OSDs and how they can be prevented.

Health and Safety professionals are in one of the best positions to do this through specifying the right products, onsite training and audits, clear product labelling and continued reinforcement through resources such as posters, guides and point of use signage. What is clear from the research is that employees are keen to invest in their skin care – something that should be reflected in workplace provisions.

Regarding specific skin care changes, SC Johnson Professional recommends this three-step approach:

  • The first step is for employees to apply a quality protection cream. Good creams will help prevent contaminants penetrating the skin, thus making handwashing easier and more effective during the shift.
  • After each contact with a contaminant, hands should be washed with an appropriate hand cleaner to the soiling on the skin. For large, visible soilings as mentioned above, a gritty hand cleaner can be used – but for removing general dust or dirt, a milder, non-gritty cleaner is more suitable.
  • Workers should apply a restorative moisturising cream at the end of a shift – replenishing any natural oils lost throughout the day.

Whilst the skin care challenge faced by industrial employees today is a unique one, by listening to consumer needs and investing in testing and formulation, it is clear that a modern, appropriate offering can have a hugely positive impact on skin care. Employers are urged to promote the importance amongst employees of choosing the right skin care products and of taking the time to care for the skin.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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