The prevalence of occupational dermatitis in the UK printing industry

Aims: To quantify occupational ill health resulting from dermatitis in the UK printing industry and to explore links with particular processes and activities.

Methods: Approximately 2600 members of the Graphical, Paper and Media Union living in Nottinghamshire were sent a self completion questionnaire. A sample of respondents, both those who reported current skin problems and those who did not, were invited for a short dermatological examination.

Results: The overall response rate was 62%. A total of 1189 respondents were directly involved in the printing industry and categorised according to work in pre-press (25%), printing (46%), or finishing (42%) processes. A total of 490 respondents (41%) self reported having a skin complaint at some time. Prevalence was highest in males (43%) and those working in printing (49%), in particular those who cleaned rollers and cylinders or who came into contact with substances containing isocyanates on a daily basis. The most commonly affected areas reported were the fingers and webs between the fingers. Twenty six per cent of the 490 reported a current problem on the hand. Reported symptoms included itching (61%), rash (58%), and dry skin (56%). Although certain printing industry substances were thought by respondents to aggravate their condition, constant washing and friction was most often cited. Reported use of protective equipment and cleansing products was generally high, particularly by printers. Clinical examination confirmed the high self reported prevalence and also identified a substantial proportion of mild cases which were not reported. The overall prevalence of occupationally related skin complaints is estimated to be 40%.

Conclusions: A much higher prevalence of dermatitis has been identified than from routine surveillance schemes. The use of good quality records from unions with high membership facilitated access to workers across a range of company sites and printing processes. Validation of self reported symptoms through clinical examination was shown to be essential. The importance of non-chemical causes of dermatitis was highlighted. The findings point towards the need for the development of effective and acceptable risk reduction strategies, in particular to reduce water contact and friction.

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An article by:
E J Livesley(1), L Rushton(2), J S English(3) and H C Williams(3)

(1) MacMillan Information Project Manager, North London Cancer Network, Grays Inn Division, Royal Free Hospital, Pond Street, London NW3 2QG, UK
(2) Institute for Environment and Health, University of Leicester, 94 Regent Road, Leicester LE1 7DD, UK
(3) Department of Dermatology, C Floor, South Block, Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham NG7 2UH, UK