Since February 1993 the EPIDERM surveillance scheme has collected data on occupational skin disease from consultant dermatologists in the UK. Reporting by occupational physicians to the scheme began in May 1994 and was superseded in January 1996 by the Occupational Physicians Reporting Activity (OPRA). The schemes currently receive reports on incident cases from 244 dermatologists and 790 occupational physicians. An estimated total of 9937 cases of contact dermatitis reported by dermatologists was calculated from surveillance data; 8129 contact dermatitis cases were estimated from reports by occupational physicians. The annual incidence of occupational contact dermatitis from dermatologist reports was 6.4 cases per 100,000 workers and 6.5 per 100,000 from reports by occupational physicians, an overall rate of 12.9 cases per 100,000 workers. Manufacturing industries account for the greatest number of cases seen by both sets of reporting physicians, with health care employment second. Reports from dermatologists also indicate high rates of dermatitis in the personal service industries (mainly hairdressers and barbers) and in agriculture. With the exception of an increase in cases seen in nurses in both schemes, the numbers and proportions of cases of contact dermatitis within occupations have remained fairly constant over the 6-year reporting period. Agents accounting for the highest number of allergic contact dermatitis cases were rubber (23.4% of allergic cases reported by dermatologists), nickel (18.2), epoxies and other resins (15.6), aromatic amines (8.6), chromium and chromates (8.1), fragrances and cosmetics (8.0), and preservatives (7.3). Soaps (22.0% of cases), wet work (19.8), petroleum products (8.7), solvents (8.0), and cutting oils and coolants (7.8) were the most frequently cited agents in cases of irritant dermatitis. The national scope of the data, together with the parallel structure by which both dermatologists and occupational physicians report incident cases, is useful in determining the extent of skin hazards in UK industry and may help in better targeting efforts to reduce the burden of skin disease at work.
West Virginia University, School of Medicine, Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health, Morgantown, West Virginia