No time to lose. Working together to beat occupational cancer.

What do health and safety professionals need to know about solar radiation?

Occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals are likely to be heavily involved with their organisation’s solar exposure plans. You may be required to help implement a plan, liaise with an external provider who is implementing a plan or support with the maintenance of a solar exposure system that is already in place.

You will need to work with both managers and workers to help risk assess, implement controls and eliminate/reduce solar exposures.

You may be required to:

  • consult with workers (on a regular basis)
  • provide support with the organisational solar radiation risk assessment
  • support with identifying and implementing suitable controls by following the ‘hierarchy of control’ – for example, introducing reduction, engineering, administrative and suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) controls
  • support with the implementation or maintenance of a solar exposure plan
  • routinely inspect known outdoor working tasks and activity areas
  • check that workers are following and understand procedures and safe systems of work
  • source and provide suitable solar radiation information and training
  • investigate incidents and exposures
  • support with health monitoring/surveillance requirements
  • support with evaluations and instate any learning lessons to prevent future solar exposure incidents.

Fact: sun exposure causes 99 per cent of non-melanoma skin cancer and up to 65 per cent of malignant melanoma skin cancer.

Typical actions to control exposure, implemented as part of a sun safety strategy or initiative, include the following.

  • Checking the ultraviolet (UV) index from the weather forecast, and communicating 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 03 or above.
  • Avoiding or minimising exposure to direct sunlight in the middle part of the day, as 60 per cent of daily UV occurs between 10am and 2pm. Try to minimise exposure until at least 3pm, if possible.
  • Regularly swapping job tasks between workers to make sure everyone on the team can spend some time in the shade.
  • Using 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.
  • Making sure rest breaks are taken in shaded areas or indoors. Siting water points in shaded areas or indoors can help encourage workers to take breaks out of the sun.
  • Adding UV protective films or tints to plain glass vehicle windows if they’re not laminated (lamination can filter most UVA), if workers regularly drive during high-UV months. On side windows, lamination, films or tints are only effective when the windows are closed.
  • Using air-conditioning to help cool areas and skin. However, this does not reduce UV exposure.
  • Raising awareness of solar radiation issues with workers, using toolbox talks or training sessions. Resources such as IOSH’s free ‘Sun safety in construction’ film will help to deliver important messages and encourage outdoor workers in any sector to take responsibility for their own health and safety with support of their organisation.
  • Wearing long-sleeved, loose-fitting tops and trousers when working outdoors when UV levels are high. 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.
  • Wearing wide-brimmed hats that shade the face, head, ears and neck. Or, if safety helmets are worn, using those fitted with ‘Legionnaire-style’ neck flaps. Ensuring PPE fits properly and comfortably, especially when the temperature is rising, is also important. PPE suppliers can be contacted about getting the most appropriate equipment for the workforce. Workers should also be involved in the PPE choices and wear it at the right times.
  • Wearing sunglasses with 100 per cent UV protection or using UV-filtering safety goggles with the same level of protection if the work requires physical eye protection. Look for the ‘UV 400’ marking.
  • Using 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 (SPF)?

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. So relying on sunscreen alone as a control measure is not recommended.

Encouraging 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.

Fact: 90 per cent of skin cancer deaths could be prevented if exposure to UV is controlled.