Over the last year, understandably, the risk of contracting and becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 has been our main safety concern. But we know there are also a number of other occupational hazards associated with nursing through the pandemic, including hand dermatitis.
According to HSE data, nursing staff have one of the highest rates of hand dermatitis in named professional roles, alongside dentists and hairdressers.
Frequent hand washing and wearing gloves for long periods of time are known to increase the risk of hand dermatitis and some gloves even contain accelerators, causing other skin problems.
Last year, the RCN published a member survey on dermatitis which found that almost half of respondents rated the condition of the skin on their hands as poor or very poor.
93% of respondents reported at least one skin symptom in the previous 12-month period, with ‘dryness’ the most common symptom experienced. Over half of respondents also experienced ‘redness’ and ‘itching’, with the back of the hands and in-between the fingers the most common sites where symptoms developed.
For some of us, that redness and itching will subside with intensive use of hand cream and a few days off. For others it can become very problematic with painful cracks and sores that don’t heal, resulting in needing to take time away from clinical areas, because of the infection risk, and will need a specialist referral. For some members, the condition can become debilitating and make it difficult to carry on nursing.
As with most conditions, the best thing to do is to take steps to prevent the problem. Employers have legal duties under health and safety law to identify the causes and reduce the risk of hand dermatitis in nursing staff and have a skin surveillance programme in place.
I know it may be impossible to remove all of the causes, for example, frequent handwashing or glove use, but you can take steps to reduce the risk factors, for example using gloves appropriately.
Vaccination is a topical example of where glove use can be reduced or removed. The RCN does not recommend the use of gloves when delivering a COVID-19 vaccination, as with other vaccinations and this is supported by the World Health Organisation. Gloves are not required as personal protective equipment unless there is a risk of contact with blood or body fluids which is minimal in controlled situations such as vaccination.
During Glove Awareness Week 2021, we’re asking you to make one change – that might be putting on hand cream (ideally containing an emollient) more often during your breaks, between visits or after your shift, or thinking about whether you need to wear gloves before a procedure or task.
Support our campaign by pledging your one change on social media using #GAW2021. Find our pledge boards to download here.
Please share these resources with colleagues in your workplace and help make one change this Glove Awareness Week.