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How to manage solar radiation

Here are some typical actions to control exposure, which can be implemented as part of a sun safety strategy or initiative.

  • Check the ultraviolet (UV) index from the weather forecast and communicate information to relevant workers, alongside prompts to use protective measures to minimise exposure. Weather forecast apps and websites usually include the UV index. You can buy monitoring devices that trigger action at certain UV levels. Action should be taken when the index is at level three or above.

Graphic showing the UV index. UV 1-2 is low, you can safely stay outside. UV 3-5 is moderate, take care during midday hours and don't spend too much time in the sun unprotected. UV 6-7 is high, seek shade during midday hours, cover up and wear sunscreen. UV 8-10 is very high, spend time in the shade between 10am and 3pm, covering up and sunscreen are essential. UV 11 and above is extreme, you should avoid being outside in the midday hours, covering up and sunscreen are essential.

  • Avoid or minimise exposure to direct sunlight in the middle of the day, as 60 per cent of daily UV occurs between 10:00 and 14:00. Try to minimize exposure until at least 15:00 if possible.
  • Regularly swap job tasks between workers so that everyone on the team can spend some time in the shade.
  • Use heavy duty cover or shade when working outdoors in the sun – shade can cut UV exposure by 50 per cent or more. Check protection levels with your shade supplier.
  • Take rest breaks in shaded areas or indoors. Siting water points in shaded areas or indoors can help encourage workers to take breaks out of the sun.
  • Add UV protective films or tints to plain glass, non-laminated vehicle windows if employees are regularly driving during high-UV months (lamination can filter most UVA). On side windows, lamination, films or tints are only effective when the windows are closed.
  • Use air-conditioning to help cool areas and skin. But remember this does not reduce UV exposure.
  • Raise awareness of solar radiation issues with workers using toolbox talks or training sessions.
  • Wear long-sleeved, loose-fitting tops and trousers when working outdoors during months with high UV levels. You’ll need to check the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating and ensure the design of the clothing suits the work and does not introduce other hazards. ‘High-wicking’ fabrics are designed to draw moisture away from the skin. Workers should also keep their top clothing on when working to reduce skin exposure to the sun.
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats that shade the face, head, ears and neck. Or, if safety helmets are worn, use those fitted with ‘Legionnaire-style’ neck flaps. Ensure personal protective equipment (PPE) fits properly and comfortably, especially when the temperature is rising. PPE suppliers can be contacted about getting the most appropriate equipment for the workforce. Workers should also be involved in the PPE choices and ensure they wear it at the right times.
  • Wear sunglasses with 100 per cent UV protection or use UV-filtering safety goggles with the same level of protection if the work requires physical eye protection. Look for the ‘UV 400’ marking.
  • Use high-factor sunscreen on skin that can’t be protected by other measures, for example, hands, face and lips. Sunscreen should be water-resistant and have ‘broad spectrum’ protection, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and a UVA rating of four or five stars. Sunscreen should only be used alongside other protective measures – it’s best not to rely on sunscreen alone. Sunscreen should be applied half an hour before exposure and reapplied at least every couple of hours. If skin has been exposed to dusts, wash it before reapplying sunscreen to avoid causing dermatitis. ‘More is better’ – it’s recommended that sunscreen should be applied generously.

What is sun protection factor (SBF)?

SPF is a measure for how good a substance is at blocking harmful UVB. The higher the SPF rating, the better the protection against UVB. For example:

  • SPF 15 will block 93 per cent of UVB
  • SPF 30 will block 97 per cent of UVB
  • SPF 50 will block 98 per cent of UVB.

However, SPF does not measure protection against UVA. This why relying on sunscreen alone as a control measure is not recommended.

Encourage workers to check their skin for changes such as moles or other skin differences. Detecting the early signs of skin cancer and undergoing early treatment can save lives.