Work-related dermatitis is caused when the skin comes into contact with certain substances at work. It accounts for about 80 per cent of occupational skin diseases.

The length of time it takes to develop depends on the substance, its strength and potency, and how long or how often it touches the skin. Once someone has developed an allergic reaction, contact with even the smallest amount can bring on the dermatitis.

Occupational dermatitis does not get transmitted from one person to another.


The most common substances that cause construction workers to contract dermatitis include:

  • Cement products
  • Latex
  • Rubber chemicals
  • Nickel and chromium
  • Epoxy resins
  • Metalworking fluid
  • Oils, soaps and detergents
  • Some paints and wood preservatives


The symptoms of a dermatitis are red, sore, itchy, scaly and blistered skin. If it gets worse, the skin can crack and bleed, and the dermatitis can spread all over the body (it often starts on the hands). Dermatitis can be a painful condition and can cause a lot of discomfort. Too often it forces workers to give up their jobs. Nevertheless, by following precautionary measures it can be prevented.

Legal background

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the COSHH Regulations 2002 (as amended), employers have to:

  • Assess the risks of work that could cause dermatitis.
  • Prevent employees coming into contact with certain substances as far as reasonably practicable.
  • Provide adequate control measures.
  • Provide information, instruction and training.
  • Provide those workers most at risk with regular health checks.
  • In appropriate cases provide health surveillance. .

In addition, under the Chemical (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2002 (CHIP) producers supplying skin sensitisers and skin irritants must label them and provide a data sheet explaining the dangers.

Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 employers must provide sufficient washing facilities, including showers if required by the nature of the work or for health reasons, at readily accessible places.

What you can do:

There are a number of ways in which you can help to protect yourself: 

  • Check all substances you come into contact with for labels identifying potential skin irritation.
  • Insist on substitute products whenever they are available.
  • If substitution is not possible insist on limited exposure.
  • Ensure you receive the necessary training to reduce the risk.
  • Ensure you are provided with proper washing facilities.
  • Insist on free protective clothing from your employer, such as gloves.
  • Ensure that all hazardous chemicals are stored safely.
  • Ask for health checks to be carried out by the employer under COSHH and ask to see general information about the results.
  • Regularly check your skin for early signs of dermatitis such as dryness, itching and redness. If concerned, inform your employer and get it checked.  

If in doubt contact your UCATT Safety Rep or your Regional Office.

Further information:

HSE Website:

National Eczema Society’s Website:

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