Keeping your hands protected

Published:  23 September, 2014

Nigel Dibbo explains why it is crucial to look after your most important tools

As busy tradespeople your hands are your livelihood and cleaning them effectively while still being able to care for them is extremely important. Your skin is your body’s largest organ and its protective barrier.

However, if you work in a manual trade and your hands are irritated then that barrier can be broken. If this occurs, harmful substances can accumulate causing sore and inflamed skin and long-term health can even be affected. Skin disease can be debilitating for the sufferer, meaning that work becomes difficult and livelihoods are put in jeopardy.

Signs to watch out for

There are common signs of skin problems to look for on your hands such as dryness, redness, cracking or swelling of the hands and fingers, as well as blisters, flaking and itching.

Installers can develop these symptoms as they come into direct contact with substances commonly used on site.

If you are immersing your hands in liquids, or getting them splashed on a regular basis then your hands may suffer. Contact with contaminated tools or surfaces can also lead to harmful substances landing on the skin, causing a problem.

According to the latest Health & Safety Executive (HSE) figures (2013) there are over 35,000 cases of work-related skin diseases diagnosed by GPs every year in the UK. Due to the rise in the use of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) in the early 2000s, reported work related skin diseases fell. Since 2005, however, this trend has stalled and the HSE has expressed its concern, believing the true figure could be higher and that many cases remain unreported.

According to the HSE, one of the most common skin problems to look out for is dermatitis. It might not sound scary, but in fact dermatitis can not only cause itching and pain, but can lead to many sufferers being unable to work. Prolonged or frequent contact with water is a major cause of dermatitis – if you often wash your hands more than 20 times a day you should watch out.

Workers who come into contact with irritants such as sealants, solvents, oils and other chemicals and dust are also at higher risk of developing the problem – and it can occur quickly. That is why fast and simple removal of dirt is so important.

The HSE advises workers to use the ‘APC’ approach when it comes to looking after your hands, which stands for Avoid, Protect and Check.

Logically therefore, you should avoid direct contact between unprotected hands and substances, products and wet work where this is sensible and practical. You should also protect the skin as avoiding contact will not always be possible, and check your hands for the first signs of itchy, dry or red skin.

Appropriate protection

For some people, gloves might be the answer. But for many jobs, they are simply not suitable. And for some installers, the gloves themselves can cause problems. Urticaria can be a reaction to gloves and can cause an almost immediate raised, itchy rash that can also cause tingling and burning. For those times when gloves cannot be used, again quick removal of the irritants is the only solution.

Washing your hands is the most obvious way to get rid of potentially harmful substances but even when water and soap are available, they can be the very cause of skin problems. As most installers know, there’s plenty of muck that doesn’t come off anyway – and when you’re busy, avoiding contact with filth can be impossible. Tradesmen need a hand cleaning wipe that’s going to get rid of the mess first time, allowing them to just crack on with the job. That is why we have launched our new 4x4 formula.

Unlike some other wipes on the market, the formula contains four powerful cleaning agents to get rid of the muck and four skin conditioners to help prevent skin problems from occurring. And, of course, wipes are used without water so are perfect for on-site use when water isn’t available.

But wipes aren’t just the answer to protecting and cleaning hands – they can also be the perfect on-site solution for cleaning tools. Silicone and PU foam, for instance, are not nice products to get on your fingers and skin but they are also tough to get off surfaces and tools.

Using the 4x4 Heavy-Duty Big Wipes and the ‘one wipe and it’s gone’ biodegradable formula ensures the removal of paint and varnishes, adhesives, oil, sealants and general grime from hands, tools and surfaces. If these substances are gone from your tools, your hands are less likely to come into contact with contaminated and potentially harmful surfaces.

Individuals who are concerned they may have a skin problem should always visit their GP for advice and treatment if needed. But, as the HSE advises, avoidance is the first step to preventing problems from occurring. And wipes might well be the answer to protecting the most important tools of all – your hands.

Nigel Dibbo is managing director at Big Wipes