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Cornwall health trust fined for dermatitis failings

Date:
26 February 2015

The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has been fined after failing to take measures to prevent or monitor at least 23 cases of dermatitis among staff between 2007 and 2012. 

The Trust pleaded guilty to a breach of health and safety legislation when it appeared before Torquay Magistrates on Friday 20 February in a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). 

The prevalence of dermatitis was discovered during an inspection by HSE, which identified that 23 cases had not been reported to them by the Trust as is required by law. 

Magistrates heard that health and hospital staff were at increased risk of developing skin issues like dermatitis as they needed to wash their hands often and had to wear gloves for some procedures to reduce the risk of infection. They were also encouraged to use hand gels. 

Despite the known risk, there was limited information for staff about reducing it with simple but effective methods such as drying hands fully and regularly applying moisturisers. 

The Trust failed to carry out regular health checks of employees to detect any symptoms of dermatitis or other skin issues. As and when symptoms were reported by members of staff, they were simply told to see their GP by the trust’s occupational health team.

As a result cases of work-related dermatitis were not picked up by the Trust and the issue was not seen as a priority. At the time, there was no link between occupational health and dermatology. This has since been rectified.

Irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) develops when an irritant substance comes into contact with skin in sufficient quantities over a period of time. It causes damage to skin cells, usually in the hands and causes swelling, flaking, blistering and cracking. Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) is caused by a reaction to a substance which causes inflammation, usually a rash. 

The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, of Treliske, Truro, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,620 for a breach of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. 

HSE Inspector Emma O’Hara, speaking after the hearing, said: “Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, which employs 5,000 people, failed to have an adequate management system in place to prevent dermatitis, a recognised condition in the health sector, and deal with it when it arose. Dermatitis is a painful and often unsightly condition which can affect the individual psychologically, socially and physically. 

“Employers must ensure they identify risks to staff and come up with plans and procedures to minimise the risks and make sure cases that do occur are properly treated and recorded.” 

Further information on dermatitis in the workplace can be found on the HSE website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/skin/employ/dermatitis.htm 

Notes to Editors: 

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk 
  2. Regulation 5(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states: “Every employer shall make and give effect to such arrangements as are appropriate, having regard to the nature of his activities and the size of his undertaking, for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of the preventive and protective measures.” 
  3. HSE news releases are available at www.hse.gov.uk/press.

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