Retailers risk lawsuits over sanitiser side-effects

Edward-John Bottomley 

Hand sanitisers sprayed on customers’ hands at shops could lead to lawsuits if people develop health issues, according to underwriting firm Stalker Hutchison Admiral (SHA).

  The increase in demand for sanitisers has meant retailers are using new suppliers and products without doing proper background checks.

  A claims specialist at SHA, Bonginkosi Ntuli says retailers could potentially face a surge of class actions and personal injury claims for negligence regarding the use of harmful products.

  That is because it is possible to be allergic to the ingredients in hand sanitisers, say experts. And using too much sanitiser, or the wrong kind, can ruin your skin.

  For some people the reaction is immediate, and often presents as a form of eczema: itchy, cracked, burning and inflamed skin. For other people, the allergy may only present itself after the hand sanitiser has been used for some time.

  Jonathan Kaiser of SHA says companies need to ask where the product is from. “What steps have they taken to ensure it is safe? Where are the certificates? Some due diligence definitely needs to be done.”

  Companies should expect an increase in claims, he says.

  Questions are being asked about the ingredients of some of the hand sanitisers aimed for mass use.

  A Johannesburg-based manufacturer of medical-grade hand sanitiser, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “A lot of these guys are inexperienced in manufacturing hand sanitiser. They arrived three months ago and now they’re experts.”

  Some products, the manufacturer says, have no barcodes or contact numbers listed on the packaging, which means you’re out of luck if something goes wrong. In an effort to cut corners, retailers might be using sanitiser with poor quality ingredients; or stuff that is toxic, like methanol, which is much cheaper, but much more harmful than ethanol.

  A 2018 academic study found that repeated use of methanol-based hand sanitiser caused methanol to be absorbed through the skin, leading to chronic toxicity. This could lead to hallucinations or even death in extreme cases.

  Stores are in a tricky spot, says Kaiser. By law, they are required to have hand sanitiser available, with the only requirement that it be 70% alcohol-based.

 “Retailers can put up large disclaimers warning customers about any potential adverse effects of hand sanitisers, specifically indemnifying themselves from liability. They can also say customers are allowed to use their own sanitiser. Retailers must also ensure that the products they use on consumers are approved as medically safe,” Kaiser says. Business Insider

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