Background: Work-related skin disease is common but few cases are documented in statutory reports or disability systems. Voluntary reporting by specialist physicians provides more complete information.
Aims: To summarize incidence rates of work-related skin diseases reported by consultant dermatologists and occupational physicians, with emphasis on contact and allergic dermatitis by occupation and industry.
Methods: Cases reported in 1996-2001 to the EPIDERM and OPRA national surveillance schemes were analysed by causal agent, occupation and industry, with incidence rates calculated against appropriate denominators.
Results: Average annual incidence rates based on data from dermatologists were 97 per million overall, 74 for contact dermatitis and 14 for neoplasia. The corresponding rates for occupational physicians were 623 overall, 510 and 2, respectively. For infective disease, the rates for occupational physicians were 28 compared to 2 for dermatologists. Contact dermatitis was most frequently attributed to rubber chemicals, soaps and cleaners, wet work, nickel and acrylics; most cases of contact urticaria were attributed to rubber chemicals or foods and flour. The pattern of incidence rates by occupation and industry was complex, but correlated with the probable type of exposure. Rates of contact dermatitis were highest among skilled workers in the petrochemical and rubber and plastic manufacturing industries, with machine operators and technical workers in metal and automotive industries also at increased risk. High proportions of cases attributed to rubber chemicals were in nurses and technicians in the health and social services.
Conclusions: These findings identify jobs and types of work where contact with causal agents is common and potentially preventable.