University of Reading cookie policy

We use cookies on to improve your experience, monitor site performance and tailor content to you.

Read our cookie policy to find out how to manage your cookie settings.


Your skin can encounter various hazards in the workplace and become dry, red, itchy, blistered, swollen, etc – known as dermatitis. This can be caused by things that dry out and damage the skin or by frequent contact with water. It can also occur if you contact substances which generate an allergic reaction.

Do you work with dermatitis hazards?

You might be at risk of dermatitis if you:

  • frequently wet or wash your hands
  • directly touch or get splashed by detergents, solvents, oils, inks, adhesives, paints, corrosives, acids or foodstuffs
  • use gloves, but they don’t consistently keep your hands dry and clean

The risk might be higher if you:

  • do tasks which are harsh on the skin, involving repeated, direct contact with rough or sharp surfaces which compromise or damage the naturally protective surface of the skin
  • immerse your hand(s) in substances, rather than use a tool to keep a safe distance

  • have a pre-existing medical condition which thins, cracks or otherwise compromises your skin

What to do next

Explain the skin protection issue to your manager or supervisor. The risk assessment covering the work activity must identify hazards which affect skin, control exposure to these hazards and reduce risk.

Dermatitis control measures could include:

  • Eliminate the substance if possible, carry out a COSHH assessment
  • Substituting harsh substances with gentler alternatives
  • Re-designing the process or task to prevent or minimise contact with chemicals or water
  • Using a hand-held tool to keep a safe distance between your skin and the hazard – not using your hand as the tool

If these steps aren’t possible, or don’t reduce contact and risk enough, then additional measures could include:

  • washing contamination from skin promptly
  • better arrangements for drying hands thoroughly

  • providing protective gloves and/or clothing

  • making sure clothing/gloves are used and stored correctly, and replaced when necessary

  • supplying moisturising pre-work and after-work creams

  • using health surveillance to monitor skin condition

What else to do

Next contact your local Health & Safety Co-ordinator and ask them for advice. Help is also available from HSS’s Liaison Advisor for your area and the HSS Topic Leads for specific topics, including hazardous substances (CoSHH), Laboratories, Manual Handling, Moulds, Pesticides via

Health surveillance

If there is still a significant risk of dermatitis, or if the individual is sensitive due to a medical condition, then health surveillance will probably be required.  Health surveillance for dermatitis involves a visual inspection of the worker’s skin – usually the hands. It must be carried out a competent person – typically the University’s Occupational Health specialists. The requirement for dermatitis health surveillance must be recorded on the risk assessment, and the manager or supervisor of the worker should arrange the health surveillance by completing a surveillance enrolment form and sending this to the Occupational Health Service.

Sources of information

Report an Incident Online
Contact details

Health & Safety Services

  • email icon
  • phone icon
  • 0118 378 8888 
  • post icon
  • University of Reading

    Health and Safety Services

    Whiteknights House (W027)

    Room G23

    Shinfield Road



    RG6 6UR