The natural UV radiation from the sun is regarded to be as carcinogenic as asbestos and tobacco. Due to their work, around 2.5 million workers spend up to eight hours or longer being exposed to solar UV radiation each day. High exposure to UV radiation poses a considerable risk to dermatological health. Due to the newly defined occupational disease, prevention measures for the protection against skin cancer have gained in importance.
Even though specific legal regulations regarding the protection against solar UV radiation at the workplace are yet to have been passed, a responsible employers should nonetheless presently fulfil their responsibility for the health and safety of their employees according to the German Occupational Safety Act.
New occupational disease demands a rethink of prevention
Every year, some 240,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer in Germany. On the basis of substantiated data, since January 2015, squamous cell carcinoma and multiple actinic keratosis of the skin due to natural UV radiation have been included in the list of recognised occupational diseases (Berufskrankheiten / BK) in Germany under reference BK 5103. This new occupational disease has put the necessity for effective preventive measures into the spotlight. The Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) has been researching the threat posed by solar UV radiation to employees who work outdoors for several years. On the basis of the results obtained during the course of several research and development projects, BAuA has made a contribution to preventive healthcare at workplaces that are exposed to solar radiation.
Research by the BAuA surrounding protective components for the reduction of solar UV exposure
In the F 2036 project BAuA completed research into “Protective components to reduce solar UV exposure at outdoor workers”. At the practical level, there has been considerable uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness, including the long term viability and acceptance, of such measures.
The UV index is very helpful in assessing the health risks posed by solar UV radiation. According to the recommendations of WHO, protective measures should be applied from a UVI value of 3 onwards. The research results demonstrated the frequency of days – in the different regions of Germany – on which the levels of solar radiation resulted in high UV index values, therefore demanding protective measures for outdoor workers. An annual calendar was derived from the data highlighting the time frames in which protective measures are recommended. The basis of this data was provided by an analysis of the measured values of the solar UV monitoring network of Germany over a time frame of 9 years. Using this data, it proved possible to develop a protective concept including minimum UV protection factors for the skin through both technical measures and personal measures, such as wearing the appropriate clothing and sunscreen.
Application of UV protection components
In general, the recommendations for protection against exposure to sunlight for outdoor workers do not differ from the protection measures for the general population. Regarding the effectiveness of solar UV radiation, comparable conditions apply across Germany. This also makes organizational, technical and individual protection measures comparable throughout Germany. For assessing the risk of solar UV radiation, UV index prognoses are helpful for work planning. Wherever possible and practicable, protective measures should be implemented at the workplace. Prevention against solar UV exposure at work must be complemented by individual protective components. In Germany and Central Europe, the textile UV protection of typical outerwear is sufficient.
However, special occupational UV protective clothing is recommended for work stays in equatorial regions. Head covers like hats and caps show clear differences in effectiveness, in particular for the protection of the skin in the cheek, ear and neck area. Standard safety helmets offer a certain protection for the skin and eyes only in the forehead area. Helmets with a surrounding protective edge with a sufficient width would offer a good protection for the neck and ears. Individual UV protection components, H. The wearing of upper body clothing, trousers, headgear and sunglasses are efficient. Individual UV protection components do not have to be expensive. They are only effective when used consistently!