According to personal injury specialists Thompsons, hairdressers could be entitled to claim compensation if they develop dermatitis. This follows the health inspectors’ announcement that nearly half of Britain's hairdressers are suffering from a debilitating and career-threatening skin disease brought about by the chemicals used in their trade.

The condition, dermatitis, is affecting approximately 50,000 hairdressers and barbers across the UK, due to widespread flouting of safety regulations by salon employers. Staff are contracting dermatitis through regular exposure to products containing large quantities of chemicals, such as peroxides, soaps and shampoos. The condition develops when hairdressers are routinely engaged in "wet working" - washing hair or applying chemicals and dyes to a succession of customers. Problems can be avoided if hairdressers use synthetic gloves made of vinyl or nitrile whenever they wash hair or use chemical products.

Dangerous Chemicals and Latex Gloves

Matthew Tollitt, from Thompsons Solicitors in Liverpool, explains: "The dangers of using certain chemicals powdered latex gloves are well known and we want to see an end to their use in the workplace. All employers – and hairdressers are no exception - have an obligation to comply with Health and Safety at Work legislation and should therefore protect their employees from such harmful substances."

Two years ago, Thompsons, working together with UNISON, secured over £350,000 compensation and established an important legal precedent. The case concerned a nurse who developed a life-threatening allergy to latex while working at two hospitals in Swansea. Alison Dugmore was forced to give up nursing in December 1997 after she suffered a series of anaphylactic attacks as a result of using latex gloves coated with corn powder. She developed skin irritation and respiratory problems from the exposure and to this day has to carry an “epi-pen” with her in case she unwittingly comes into contact with latex.

Tollitt continues: "As a result of the Dugmore case, employers can no longer plead ignorance to the dangers of latex. If they do, and their workers suffer, they will be entitled to compensation."