The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has been fined after failing to take measures to prevent or monitor at least 23 cases of dermatitis among staff between 2007 and 2012. The Trust pleaded guilty to a breach of health and safety legislation when it appeared before Torquay Magistrates in a prosecution brought by the HSE.
The prevalence of dermatitis was discovered during an inspection by HSE, which identified that 23 cases had not been reported to them by the Trust as is required by law. In environments such as hospitals dermatitis is a known risk and yet the Trust failed to provide adequate information and training to its staff. Having experience of hospitals it seems that too much emphasis is directed at previous knowledge and that ensuring staff are properly trained relies on them using on-line learning systems.
In court Magistrates heard that health and hospital staff were at increased risk of developing skin issues like dermatitis as they needed to wash their hands often and had to wear gloves for some procedures to reduce the risk of infection. They were also encouraged to use hand gels.
Better information for staff about the simple yet effective methods such as drying hands fully and regularly applying moisturisers could have helped reduce the risks.
It was found that the Trust also failed to carry out regular health checks of employees to detect any symptoms of dermatitis or other skin issues. We have worked with many clients where simple checks have been implemented and potential problems are then found at an early stage; doing this has helped to identify where controls need to be improved.
At the Trust when symptoms were reported by members of staff, they were simply told to see their GP by the trust’s occupational health team. As a result cases of work-related dermatitis were not picked up by the Trust and the issue was not seen as a priority. At the time, there was no link between occupational health and dermatology. This is not uncommon in our experience; the Trust has since rectified this.
Irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) develops when an irritant substance comes into contact with skin in sufficient quantities over a period of time. It causes damage to skin cells, usually in the hands and causes swelling, flaking, blistering and cracking. Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) is caused by a reaction to a substance which causes inflammation, usually a rash.
The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, of Truro, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,620 for a breach of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.
Dermatitis is a painful and often unsightly condition which can affect the individual psychologically, socially and physically. It is important that employers must ensure they identify risks to staff and come up with plans and procedures to minimise the risks and make sure cases that do occur are properly treated and recorded.
The HSE provides guidance on dermatitis in the workplace on the HSE website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/skin/employ/dermatitis.htm