Health surveillance: occupational contact dermatitis

Article published in the Regulator | Issue 1: 2018 

From 2005–17, NOPSEMA received 12 notifications of incidents (accidents or dangerous occurrences) relating to chemical exposure to the skin and eyes, five of which resulted in a medical emergency evacuation. Exposure to chemicals via the skin and eyes is a hazard to workers in the offshore petroleum industry, where exposure can lead to occupational contact dermatitis (OCD) or permanent damage.

OCD is caused by substances coming into contact with the skin that give rise to irritation or allergy. A number of chemicals used in the offshore oil and gas industry can cause OCD, including some muds used in drilling. Common symptoms, which may not appear immediately, include skin redness or soreness, itching, rashes, and cracking or peeling. If not adequately treated, subsequent exposure to even small amounts of chemicals can trigger severe reactions. If OCD is detected early, and where exposure to the substance responsible is stopped, the associated health consequences may be minimised.

Health surveillance for OCD should be provided to members of the workforce if there is risk of exposure to substances which could lead to irritation or allergy. This type of surveillance involves assessing the condition of the skin as soon as possible after starting work and periodically throughout employment whilst keeping the associated records. Generally, it is performed under the supervision of a registered or authorised medical practitioner who is adequately trained in the required testing or medical examinations for the hazardous substances used. The publication Collecting Surveillance Data on Risks for Occupational Contact Dermatitis, available at safeworkaustralia.gov.au, provides a practical guide to health surveillance.

NOPSEMA advises operators to identify members of their workforce who require health surveillance for OCD. Operators are also reminded of the requirement to keep health surveillance records in accordance with Clause 9(2)(g) of Schedule 3 to the OPGGS Act.