The harmful effects of 'wet work' on large parts of the population have been neglected for far too long

The harmful effects of ’wet work’ on large parts of the population have been neglected for far too long, according to occupational and environmental exposure to chemicals experts.


washing hands

Wet work - household cleaning, dish washing, health care sector work, hairdressing, metal work or food preparation - can increase the chances of workers suffering with eczema. This affects women more than men, 15 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively, because more women are involved with wet work.

Wet work is ’the most important risk factor for occupational skin disease’ concluded scientists at the recent Occupational and environmental exposures of skin to chemicals  conference in Stockholm, Sweden.   

Yet some paradoxes exist: from new data it seems that a single long exposure can be less damaging than multiple short exposures. Pieter-Jan Coenraads from University Hospital, Groningen, the Netherlands said that frequent hand washing could cause more dermatitis than immersing the hand in water for an hour.   

Reducing intense and frequent exposure of workers’ hands to water, detergents and soaps is key. Anne Schmidt from the office for occupational dermatology, Nuremberg, Germany said: ’Skin disease due to wet work is a paradox, since the frequency of the problem is high, the risk factors are known and well described, and the preventive measures are obvious and simple. In Germany there are now indications that a regulation limiting wet work has resulted in reduction of occupational hand eczema in some sectors.’ Fiona Salvage