The mother of four, now suffers from allergic dermatitis (and probably will for the rest of her life) as a result of her working as a process worker for a Perth company which required her to electroplate metals with chemicals.
When she stopped working a year ago — and when the company agreed to pay her workers’ compensation– skin had been peeling off her eye lids, cheeks, stomach, and anywhere else you could imagine.
She was forced to use a steroid cream every day to attempt to avoid flare-ups of the rashes that often last for months.
Dyson said she was exposed to a range of chemicals including tantalum chloride, pentanol, ruthenium chloride, hexachloroiridate solution and, to a lesser extent, epoxy, nickel and cobalt. Now, even water can result in a horrible rash.
Dyson alleges that her employer failed to provide her with the proper protective clothing and only gave her yellow dishwashing gloves.
“It wasn’t until I saw a specialist and showed him what gloves we were using that he found out we should’ve been using rubberised gloves that don’t seep,” she said.
She resented that she had to investigate the safety of the chemicals she was working with, instead of the onus being on her employer.
Slater and Gordon workers’ compensation lawyer Joel Schneider warned many workers were still being exposed to hazardous chemicals.
Mr Schneider said people worried about their exposure to chemicals should contact WorkSafe.
More info on Personal Protective Equipment or PPE
According to a recent report released by Safe Work Australia, occupational skin diseases are the second most occurring work-related disease that general practitioners regularly treat. The report released indicated that the cost to businesses throughout Australia is about $33 million annually.
Considering this significant cost to the public, it is important to be aware of how one can minimise the risks of suffering from a work related skin-disease. Workers who suffer the greatest risks are those who are frequently exposed to harmful chemicals or wet work in their daily professions.
Some Main Causes:
- bases and alkalis
- rubber accelerators; and
- potassium dichromate in leather and cement.
Safe Work Australia Chair Mr Tom Phillips AM stated that of the workers who report exposure to chemicals, less than two-thirds said they had received chemical safety or Personal Protective Equipment training.
These numbers indicate that occupational health and safety training needs to implemented in every workplace in Australia regardless of how big or small and include how to properly handle chemicals and hazardous substances.
This is a clear message that work health and safety training needs to be integrated in every workplace in Australia no matter how big or small and include how to properly handle chemicals and hazardous substances,” he said. Quality training then, is of significant importance.
The use of PPE here is self-explanatory, and includes:
- safety glasses and goggles
- shop coats and overalls
- boots; and
- hearing protection systems.
An often overlooked method of reducing risks is to practice good personal hygiene. While it would seem that personal hygiene is the responsibility of the individual worker, it is up to the employer to ensure that PPE is properly maintained and employees have access to the proper facilities and cleansing agents.
When coming into contact with hazardous contaminants, the most important initial treatment should be immediately washing the contaminated part of the body, so these products are a valuable addition to industrial environments where dangerous chemicals are used.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be maintained, repaired or replaced so that it continues to be effective and safe. Each worker must be trained in ensuring the equipment is:
- clean and hygienic, and
- in good working order.
What are the problems with using personal protective equipment?
Where PPE is required and used at work one must remember:
- wearing PPE may adversely affect the performance of tasks being undertaken — either by restricting vision or mobility
- While PPE may be uncomfortable to wear and some workers may not be able to wear it (such as those with allergies to latex and thus cannot wear rubber gloves)
- constant supervision is required to ensure the PPE is being used the proper manner
What is the worker’s duty in relation to personal protective equipment?
A worker who is provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) is trusted to:
- use or wear the PPE in accordance with any information, training or reasonable instruction provided by the person conducting business, so far as they are reasonably able
- not misuse or damage the PPE on purpose
- advise the person in charge of any damage, defect or need to clean or decontaminate any of the PPE they are aware of, and
- consult with their manager if the PPE is not an adequate size or quality.
If a worker refuses to wear or use the PPE, the employer can take action against the worker. When a worker who does not wear or use PPE, or intentionally misuses or destroys it, that worker may face prosecution.