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Protecting employees against solar radiation

Every employer should consider the risks associated with UV radiation and their employees. It should not be limited to just those who are in outdoor industries such as construction and landscaping. The risks may not be as obvious as you think. Any business with commercial travellers, delivery drivers, security, or any employee that spends time outside is open to UV radiation risk.All employers have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of their workers and to control the risks associated with the work. Having effective control measures in place is the only real way to reduce the risk of occupational related cancers and exposure to cancer causing substances such as UV radiation.

Ultraviolet radiation (UVR), particularly the UVA and UVB wavelengths, produced by the sun are held to be carcinogens that cause cancer. Skin cells damaged by such radiation waves, whether by sunburn or ‘tanning’, increases the potential for developing skin cancer.

Some environmental points to remember:

  • It is incorrect to believe that darker skin is more immune to sun damage and related cancers, but fairer skin is at an increased risk.
  • Ocular problems such as eye cancer, cataracts, and pterygium can be caused by sun exposure.
  • Cloud cover does not decrease UV radiation as the wavelengths pass straight through.
  • Reflective surface such as water, snow, concrete and polished surfaces increases UV radiation.
  • The outside temperature is not an indication of UV radiation strength. UV radiation can be as strong in winter as it is in summer.
  • Anytime the media or bureau of meteorology advises that the UV index will be 3 or higher, appropriate precautions should be implemented if working or spending time outside.

A brief list of possible controls and measures to implement in workplaces are:

  • Wear UV resistant clothing if working outside.
  • Wear broad brimmed hats and use sunglasses with higher lens levels (not fashion sunglasses!!).
  • Use sunscreen prior to commencing work and reapply throughout the day. SPF of the sunscreen should be at least 30+ or higher.
  • Tint work vehicle windows so as to avoid “truckies arm”.
  • If possible plan work rosters so as to complete work earlier or to have breaks during the middle of the day.
  • Provide shade if possible.

As always, if possible a risk should be eliminated rather than just minimised.

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Author: Charles Watson, Senior HR Advisor, Workforce Guardian

This article first appeared on the Workforce Guardian blog page – view here

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