Skin Problems in Construction Work

Working in construction can be hazardous to your skin. Construction materials as well as outdoor conditions take their toll. Problems range from irritations to skin cancer.

Some construction materials can cause serious health problems. They can produce allergic reactions, create skin irritations that become life-threatening, produce burns that can put you in the hospital, or seep through your skin and make you sick.

For some people, reactions to the even the smallest amount of materials can be so severe that they need to change careers.

Harmful Agents
Certain construction materials produce skin irritations called contact dermatitis. Symptoms include red, itchy, scaly skin or painful burns, ulcers, and rashes like acne. Some materials that can hurt your skin include:

* Wet cement
* Some cement dusts
* Lime
* Metalworking fluids
* Some paints
* Adhesives
* Epoxy resins
* Alcohols
* Toluene
* Turpentine
* Xylene

Also, pitch and coal tar can cause skin cancer.

What You Can Do
Simply washing your hands is not enough. Caution must be used if you work with hazardous construction materials. You should clean your skin with a mild, non-abrasive soap. Don't use solvents such as alcohol, mineral spirits, turpentine, and limonene. Solvents can irritate your skin and make you sick. It is much healthier to use mineral oil or vegetable oil in combination with soap and water. Use a liquid soap instead of a bar.

When working with caustic materials, such as lime or wet cement, use a pH neutral soap. You can actually hurt your hands if you use a harsher soap.

Healthy Hand Tips
Use the following general precautions to protect your hands:

* After work, wash with soap, rinse with water, and dry your hands with a clean cloth or paper towel.
* Follow the initial cleaning with mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or oil-based lotions, but avoid lotions that have lanolin, limonene (citrus solvent), or perfumes.
* When using work gloves, make sure your hands and the insides of the gloves are clean and dry before you put them on. (If your hands have any of the harsh materials on them when you put on gloves, you can make your skin problems worse.)
* Always use the right gloves for the job. Some gloves will not protect you from some of the materials or protect you for a whole work shift.
* See a doctor if you develop a skin problem that won't go away.

Working Outdoors
Before working outdoors, always apply a sunscreen to the skin areas that will be exposed during your work shift, even if you have dark skin. Make sure your hands and skin are clean before you put on sunscreen.

Also, wear a long-sleeved shirt. This will not only protect your skin from sunburn, but it protects against harmful materials, too.

Caring for your Clothes
Try not to get your clothes wet with cement or other harsh materials. When you work with hot asphalt, do not wear synthetic materials like polyesters or nylon -- they will melt and burn the skin if they touch the asphalt.

At home, don't wash your work clothes with any non-work clothes. If you do, you risk exposing your good clothes and your family's clothes to the harmful materials.

-- Dan Harvey

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