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Hand Health

Your hands are your most important asset. Without them, you wouldn’t have a job because you couldn’t do your job

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Many professions – such as the medical and
the automotive services industry – are hard on hands. Doctors
and nurses have to wash their hands a lot, which can cause dry,
irritated skin. Ditto for the automotive service technician.

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No matter what the profession, working hands
– especially those in contact with water or chemicals – can develop
painful, unsightly and possibly job-threatening skin conditions.

Disproving Myths

Are your hands dry, cracked and in pain because
your skin is in such bad shape?

Although the industry has been working hard
to change its "grease-monkey" image, there seems to
be an unwillingness on the part of technicians to take the time
to do preventative skin-care maintenance. This resistance not
only hurts the industry’s image (you may not be a grease monkey,
but you still look like one), but also the individual (these skin
conditions hurt physically).

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A lot of the problem is that many techs believe
myths like:

  • Technicians’ hands only get clean after a week’s vacation;
  • Hands are supposed to hurt;
  • Auto techs should use the most aggressive cleaners;
  • Red, irritated and bleeding hands are normal;
  • You shouldn’t wash your hands when they’re dry and hurting.

But remember, these are only myths.

The Skinny on Your Skin

Skin is the body’s largest organ and the first line of defense
against harmful substances found in the chemicals routinely used
by auto techs. The outer layers of skin have a maximum thickness
of about 1 mm and must remain intact to adequately perform the
barrier function.

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It’s very important that the skin remain healthy if it’s to do
its job, but, unfortunately, a variety of workplace and other
environmental factors result in damage to the skin barrier. Solvents
remove the skin’s natural lubricants, and such damage to the skin
barrier results in dryness caused by excessive water loss. The
effects of cold weather, low humidity and wind also may contribute
to a skin condition.

Although hand washing reduces colds and flu – which means healthier
workers and increased productivity – hand washing with heavy-duty
cleansers dries the skin, especially in the winter. Frequent or
prolonged hand washing, even with mild skin cleansers, removes
the skin’s protective oils and increases vulnerability to irritation,
severe skin damage and even serious disease.

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Hand Hazards

Technicians come in contact with a number of chemicals and irritants:
cleaners, wash compounds, corrosion inhibitors and undercoatings,
to name a few. Skin problems caused by exposure to these types
of chemicals can be detrimental to your quality of life and to
your ability to earn a living.

Although not much medical attention has been dedicated to occupational
skin diseases, these conditions account for a large percentage
of occupational illness cases, costing American industries a big
chunk of money each year in lost productivity, medical care and
disability payments.

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Statistics show that one out of every four workers is exposed
to some form of skin irritant in the workplace, and this number
increases among automotive technicians who work daily with a wide
range of chemicals. In fact, the National Institute of Occupational
Safety and Health has included occupational dermatitis, an inflammation
of the skin, on its list of the "Top 10 Most Important Occupational
Injuries and Illnesses."

Occupational dermatitis is categorized in two broad types of skin
disorders: contact dermatitis, which accounts for about 80 percent
of all skin problems, and allergic contact dermatitis, which accounts
for 20 percent. Irritant contact dermatitis is difficult to avoid
in the workplace, since it involves necessary contact with job-related
substances. Repeated contact with these substances, over months
or years, can result in a chronic skin condition.

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Healing Hands

Skin irritation can be prevented by limiting or eliminating contact
with irritants. Because this isn’t possible unless you change
professions, it may be lessened or avoided by using a hand treatment
system that cleans and restores the skin – the most effective
solution is a regimen of washing, followed by the use of a hand
cream that protects, repairs and restores the skin.

Other options are barrier creams or gloves. Waterless soaps and
cleansers, which may include wipes, also are available.

To help take care of your hands, follow these dos and don’ts:

Dos:

  • Wash properly. Waterless hand cleaners are usually
    most effective. When using this type of cleaner, remember to roll
    up your sleeves to clean grease or grime that may have worked
    its way onto your forearms. Don’t wet your hands, and work a small
    amount into your dry palms with your thumb for about 30 seconds
    to loosen dirt. Add water, if available, and continue to rub.
    Rinse and wipe off. Thoroughly dry.
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  • Wash regularly. Make it a habit to take care of your
    hands.

  • Use a protectant before going to work to protect your
    skin and to promote quick cleaning.

  • Use an antiseptic skin treatment after work to help
    soothe and restore skin.

  • Wash your hands before and after using the restroom
    to avoid spreading irritants.

  • Wear personal protective equipment whenever possible
    to avoid contact with skin irritants. When contact with irritants
    is unavoidable, wash immediately afterward.

  • Change work clothes and coveralls daily, and be sure
    to wash work clothes separately so you don’t spread contamination
    to other people’s clothes and skin.

    Don’ts:

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    • Don’t use regular bar or lotion soap if your hands are
      full of grease and grime.
      Too weak a soap can cause you to
      have to scrub too hard. Use an appropriate-strength cleaner.

    • Don’t use harsh detergents, solvents or irritating chemicals,
      such as gasoline, turpentine or benzene, to clean skin. Always
      use an approved skin cleanser.

    • Don’t eat, drink or smoke with dirty hands. Harmful
      chemicals can enter the body through the mouth and damage vital
      organs.

    • Don’t wipe hands with a dirty shop towel when you’re
      in a hurry; it may be hiding shreds of metal or other debris that
      can damage your hands. Instead, use a hand-cleaner-containing
      wipe for in-between cleanups.

    The Hands that Feed You

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    Your hands don’t have to be cracked and bleeding to cause problems.
    Even dry, chapped hands will cause you discomfort and hinder your
    efficiency.

    While most technicians don’t think twice about wearing eye protection,
    most don’t think at all about protecting their hands. Why is this?
    Injuring a hand would be just as detrimental to you as injuring
    an eye.

    Don’t bite the hands that feed you. Take care of your skin and
    hands, and your skin and hands will continue to take care of you.

    Writer Eileen Benedict is associate editor of BodyShop Business.

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