Many Dutch builders suffer from eczema of the hands, a condition known as dermatitis. Unfortunately, the builders and their occupational physicians often do not diagnose symptoms such as clefts in the skin as dermatitis. PhD Candidate Johan Timmerman advocates a specific dermatological study programme to train occupational physicians how to recognise dermatitis in builders at an early stage. This would help to prevent more serious complaints.
Timmerman studied 751 Dutch builders and discovered that no fewer than 38% displayed early symptoms of dermatitis. Another 23% had serious symptoms, such as clefts in the skin. Builders and occupational physicians often do not recognise these conditions as symptoms of dermatitis. Timmermans found no specific cause for the common occurrence of the condition in builders, but it is probably due to a combination of factors, such as long-term exposure to rough materials and solvents.
Gloves and skin care
“My results show that the construction industry must pay more attention to dermatitis”, says Timmerman. “That will raise awareness among employees and employers, and encourage the proper use of gloves and skin-care products.”
Depending on their age, builders have right to a preventive medical exam every two or four years. This makes the occupational physician a major player in the prevention of dermatitis. Timmerman showed a test panel of two experienced occupational physicians examples of dermatitis, and they scored much worse than a panel of dermatological experts. After a dermatological training course, they were much better able to recognise symptoms of dermatitis. A focused dermatological study programme to train occupational physicians how to recognise dermatitis in builders at an early stage would therefore help to prevent more serious complaints.