Occupational Contact Dermatitis (OCD) is the most common occupational skin disease in Westernised industrial countries, and is strongly associated with continued exposure to or immersion in liquids. Researchers hoped to change this by studying how Australian workers experience wet working conditions, and how such conditions impact on OCD.

A job is described as having "wet working conditions" if it either requires that workers frequently wash their hands, or spend a duration of time with their hands immersed in liquids. Some examples of jobs in this category include nurses, chefs, cooks/kitchen hands, cleaners and hairdressers.

The National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance (NHEWS) survey, conducted by Safe Work Australia in 2008, represented the first Australian attempt at obtaining information related to wet-working conditions.

In 2011, a research team led by Dr Tessa Keegel from the Monash Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health built on the NHEWS survey by contrasting its information with data sourced from both the Occupational Dermatology Research and Education Centre, and de-identified Victorian workers' compensation claims data obtained through ISCRR's Compensation Research Database (CRD).

The team hoped that, by comparing and contrasting patterns of workplace exposure to wet work, diagnosed OCD, and successful OCD compensation claims, they would obtain a better understanding of how wet working conditions contribute to OCD, and whether these conditions can be modified to reduce instances of OCD.

Where to now?

This team produced a final report presenting the findings of their data analysis, with a particular focus on the experiences of hairdressers.

The report recommends the development of targeted policies and education packages for specific high-risk occupations and industries, citing several international success stories in this area as case studies.

Significantly, a large discrepancy has been identified between the numbers of workers diagnosed with OCD and the number of successful workers' compensation claims for the condition - confirming the importance of consulting a range of data sources when exploring this issue.

The team presented additional research findings through the following journal articles: