The Australian sun can be very dangerous, and unfortunately, Australians have a very high risk of developing skin cancers. For outdoor workers, this is a very real and serious occupational health and safety issue.
Many outdoor workers are exposed to dangerous levels of ultraviolet radiation, sometimes over many years. If not detected early enough, sun damage can lead to fatal cancers. The problem in Victoria is very serious. At the launch of the 2004 SunSmart season, the Cancer Council warned Victorians of the human and economic cost if skin cancer rates continue to increase. During 2002, melanoma was diagnosed in 1,807 people, with 215 people dying from the disease. (SeeMore information on UV Radiation)
Action Plan for OHS Reps
Control measures should be based on an assessment of the UV exposure (see the Risk Assessment Checklist (on the left here) and implemented in consultation with Union Health and Safety Representatives. The control strategy should give priority to Engineering, Administrative and Procedural measures. Personal protective measures should be used as a supplement to other control measures or where jointly agreed.
Consultation with reps and workers is essential in choosing clothing which is appropriate.
Employers should ensure that exposure to UV is reduced by implementing the following control strategies: Once the assessment is completed the identified risks must be controlled. Often a combination of risk control measures may be needed to address the risk factors. These controls can be grouped in the following way:
Can the work process, or tasks be eliminated?
As it is difficult (or impossible) to eliminate UV radiation, other control measures are needed.
Engineering controls mean changing the type of equipment or tools used. For example:
- Shade structures over outdoor work areas, such as loading bays.
- Toll booths to shelter carpark attendants.
Reorganisation of work practices to reduce exposure, and developing measures to ensure a safe system of work. For example:
- a gardener's administrative (office) duties can be performed during the high UV risk hours of 10am to 2pm (11am to 3pm during daylight saving hours)
- Pedestrian transit routes can be rerouted to take advantage of natural shade provided by buildings.
Make sure the employer develops a written sun protection policy in consultation with reps and workers. Protection from the sun must be an integral and permanent feature of your work practice.
Appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment
Personal protective equipment is sometimes the most practical way to control UV, however these should only be used once the other controls have been implemented. The PPE should be provided by the employer, and this is something which should be negotiated well before the summer season starts. Advice from the ATO is that this is a tax deduction for businesses (reasonable expenditure).
Examples of PPE are:
- broad brimmed hat (at least 8cm)
- long sleeve, close weave shirt (see AS/NZS 4399: 1996).
- SPF 30+ sunscreen
- sunglasses (AS1067).
When control measures have been implemented a time frame is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the control. The risk assessment and control plans should be kept for future reference.
Assessing UV Exposure in the Workplace
As UV radiation exposure varies between places where work is performed and between occupational groups in each workplace, an exposure assessment should be carried out for each workplace and occupational group. Such an assessment should include:
- jobs/tasks (including breaks), which involve UV exposure;
- the time of day tasks are carried out and how often the tasks are performed;
- the shade provided by the physical environment in which work is carried out;
- reflective surfaces, eg water or unpainted corrugated steel or aluminium roofing, that are part of the environment in which the work is carried out;
- potential photosensitising agents in the workplace or associated with the work, eg some drugs, some industrial chemicals and some plants.
Exposures should be assessed regularly. Assessments should be conducted whenever there are changes in a work procedure which may lead to greater UV radiation exposure.
Training and Education
Training for workers exposed to UV radiation should be on-going and include induction of new workers. The object of training and education should include increasing recognition of the health effects of solar and other UV radiation and the promotion of safe working procedures consistent with the control strategy outlined above.
What is Ultraviolet Radiation?
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is a component of the electromagnetic (EMR) spectrum. All forms of EMR are characterised by wavelength. The unit of measurement of wavelength for ultraviolet radiation is the nanometre (nm) which is a 1,000,000,000th of a metre. The UV range is traditionally divided into:
UV-A = 320 - 400nm - long wave or black light
UV-B = 285 - 320 nm - middle wave or sunburn radiation - Primary wavelength range causing health hazards
UV-C=200 - 285 nm - short wave/germicidal radiation/electric arc welding
"Vacuum"UV=100 - 200nm.
The factors which affect the intensity of solar UV radiation (particularly UV-B and to a lesser extent, UV-A) are:
- time of day
- how much shade is available
- season of the year
- cloud cover
- whether and how much reflection of light there is
- closeness to the equator
The greatest intensity of UV from the sun is between the hours of 10.00a.m. and 2.00p.m. (11.00a.m. and 3.00p.m. daylight saving time.) About 65% of the UV responsible for skin cancers is received between these times.
What are the health effects of Ultraviolet Radiation?
|Radiation burn (sunburn)||Premature ageing of the skin|
|Photosensitisation of the skin||Damage to the retina of the eye|
|Photoconjunctivitis||Cataracts of the eye|
Two out of every three Australians living to the age of 75 years can expect to develop some type of skin cancer. Four percent of cancer deaths in Australia are from skin cancer.
There are three main types of skin cancer in Australia:
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC):
Most common but least dangerous. Small, round or flattened lumps which are red, pale or pearly in colour and may have blood vessels over the surface.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC):
Less common, but more dangerous than BCC. Characterised by scaling, red areas that may bleed easily and ulcerate, looking like an unhealing sore.
Rarest, but most dangerous skin cancer. Appears as a new spot, freckle or mole that changes in colour, thickness or shape over months. Can be dark brown to black, red or blue-black or a combination of colours with an irregular outline or shape.
Exposure to photosensitising chemicals or substances can make the effects of solar UV radiation worse. Some examples of photosensitises are coal tar and several of its by-products, (including certain dyes), selected plants and fruits, and a number of medications.
- WorkSafe Victoria Safety Basics webpage Sun Protection where you can download:
- the Guidance Note Sun protection for construction and other outdoor workers,
- a UV self-assessment checklist and other material.
Guidance Note for the Protection of Workers from the Ultraviolet Radiation in Sunlight - revised in November 2008, this national guidance note provides information on the adverse effects of solar ultraviolet radiation and offers advice on methods of prevention. It can be downloaded in pdf or word format. Note: all SafeWork Australia standards, codes and guidance notes can be downloaded from this page.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA): UV exposure resource page offers information about personal sun protection and products that claim to offer sun protection. Also, a Fact sheet: Solar UV radiation and the UV Index and an occupational exposure to UV radiation [pdf].
The Sunsmart website has guidance, information and policies:specifically addressing the workplace, as well as general information. There is a page for workers: Working Outdoors with advice to help workplaces minimise employee exposure to ultraviolet radiation. See also the Cancer Council websiteVictoria
From Queensland, Fact Sheets Sun Safety and:
- For workers ‘Are you protected from the Sun?’
Qld Health Sun Safety website
The Australian Taxation Office has recognised the growing importance of sun protection while at work and allows tax deductions for the provision of sun protection for both individual workers and businesses. This depends on what type of work you do. Go to the ATO website and check out whether you may be able to claim.
The UK's Health & Safety Executive mini-website provides outdoor workers with the latest information and resources to assist in reducing exposure to UV radiation in sunlight.
Important Workplace Conditions Information