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Skin infections at work

Skin infections are caused by germs, including some types of bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.

Skin infections can affect anyone, but some types of work have an increased risk.

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Skin infections at work

Healthy, intact skin provides a natural barrier to germs. Cuts, abrasions, puncture wounds, contact dermatitis (an irritant or allergic condition of the skin) and other skin conditions that damage the skin's protective barrier allow germs to enter and cause infection. Occasionally, germs can spread from the skin to other parts of the body such as the bloodstream or lungs.

Skin infections are commonly caused by Staphylococcus aureus ('Staph') bacteria. These live naturally on the skin and in the nose but can cause infection if they get into a cut or other broken skin. Some strains of the bacteria,known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or 'golden staph', are resistant to some antibiotics.
Some people have personal risk factors that increase their risk of infection. These include:

  • a medical condition or treatment that increases susceptibility to infection or lowers immunity (e.g. diabetes, poor circulation)
  • chronic skin diseases such as contact dermatitis and eczema.

Who is at risk?

Skin infections can affect anyone, but some types of work are associated with an increased risk. For example:

  • work with infected people and young children
  • work with animals and animal products
  • work with soil, vegetation, freshwater and marine water
  • work with contaminated substances or environments (e.g. sewage and waste)
  • work involving a risk of skin injuries or contact dermatitis.

Skin infections spread more readily at workplaces where there is:

  • crowding
  • close physical contact
  • lack of workplace cleanliness
  • inadequate washing facilities
  • poor personal hygiene
  • shared use of personal items such as uniforms and towels.

Managing exposure

Employers should:

  • provide washing facilities (PDF, 0.57 MB) including clean running water, soap and paper towel or an air hand dryer. Field workers should be provided with portable hand washing facilities
  • promote skin care at work by encouraging workers to wash and dry their hands and use a skin care product such as a skin emollient
  • provide first aid facilities (PDF, 0.48 MB)
  • maintain the workplace in a clean and hygienic condition, including regular cleaning of surfaces that are frequently touched
  • protect workers against skin injuries and contact dermatitis
  • make sure that shared items such as uniforms, linen and personal protective equipment (PPE) are cleaned before use by another person.

Workers should adopt personal hygiene practices.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating, drinking and smoking, after contact with potential sources of infection and after removing PPE.
  • If using a waterless hand sanitiser, make sure it contains an alcohol content of at least 60 per cent, use only on visibly clean hands and wash your hands with soap and water at the first opportunity.
  • Check your skin before starting work and cover any cuts and other broken skin with a clean, dry dressing. If you sustain a wound at work, clean and cover it straight away.
  • Keep your work area, equipment and tools in a clean condition.
  • Follow safety instructions and wear PPE as directed.
  • Do not share personal items like towels, clothing and grooming items.
  • If a wound shows signs of infection, keep it clean and dry, cover it with a clean dressing and change the dressing regularly. Wash your hands after touching the wound or dressing.
  • Consult a doctor if you have
    • a serious wound (e.g. a major wound, animal bite or tetanus-prone wound)
    • a skin infection that is not improving or is getting worse, especially if it is associated with pain, swelling, pus, redness, fever or if you have a personal risk factor for infection.

More information

Contact Workplace Health and Safety Queensland on 1300 362 128 for information on managing infectious diseases at work. If a person is infected with an infectious disease at work, this must be notified to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. Contact Queensland Health on 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or seek advice from your general practitioner if you have concerns about a skin infection.