Ultra-violet radiation (UVR)
Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun is not related to temperature – it can’t be seen or felt. In NSW, for at least 10 months of the year, UVR levels are high enough to damage unprotected skin (UV levels of 3 and above). UVR is a known carcinogen – it is the cause of 95% of skin cancers in Australia.
All skin types can be damaged by UVR. The damage is permanent and irreversible and increases with each exposure.
UVR can also be produced artificially, eg during arc welding processes and via specialised lights, such as those used in hospitals and laboratories for their germicidal properties.
UVR is present in varying levels throughout each day, from dawn to dusk and exposure to it isn’t just limited to hot and sunny days.
UVR can pass through clouds, so levels can be high on even cool and cloudy days.
This means outdoor workers are at risk of exposure to UVR all year round, so it must be managed every working day, throughout the entire year. It should be noted that men aged 40 years and older in NSW are at greater risk of developing skin cancer. They are:
- 1½ times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma, and
- around 2½ times more likely to die from melanoma than women of a similar age.
In NSW, between 2006/07 – 2016/17, workers compensation claims for skin cancer cost over $12½ million.
Exposure to UVR also causes sunburn, premature ageing, short-term eye problems and permanent eye damage, such as cataracts.
The site manager /supervisor and all sub-contractors on construction and other outdoor worksites should review outdoor work schedules together to assist in developing appropriate sun and heat protection measures, and ensure the agreed controls are implemented, with details included into the workplace risk management plan.
UVR is present every day, throughout the daylight hours, in varying levels of intensity
In Australia, we’re exposed to varying levels of UVR whenever we’re outdoors during daylight.
Ultra-violet radiation (UVR) is present from dawn to dusk (see diagram). In NSW, it’s present every day in levels exceeding 3 – for at least 10 months each year – whether the sky is clear and sunny, a little bit cloudy or overcast.
It starts at daybreak and increases in its intensity during the morning hours. The peak exposure time is in the middle of the day between 10am – 2pm (or 11am – 3pm during daylight saving). Then the UV levels lessen in intensity through the afternoon until dark.
A UV level of 3 is strong enough to damage the skin and eyes, so when UV levels are 3 and above, sun protection must be provided and used. Traditionally, the UV Index has been the most commonly used measurement to advise us of the days when sun protection should be worn.
Outdoor workers should wear sun safe PPE such as; a shirt with a collar and long sleeves, trousers or long shirts, made of suitable (UPF) 50+ rated material, a broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaires hat, at least SPF 30+ broad spectrum sunscreen and lip balm, and wraparound sunglasses.
Many people think they only need to wear sun safe clothing and use sunscreen during the peak exposure times. This is incorrect. It’s very important to realise that UVR levels average between 6 – 11 across NSW each year. UV levels of 3 and above routinely occur outside of the peak exposure times every day of every month of every year, across all seasons - which means wearing sun protective clothing and applying sunscreen is needed for many more hours each day.
The Cancer Council SunSmart app
- Managing the work environment and facilities Code of Practice
- Work health and safety consultation, coordination and cooperation Code of Practice
- Safe design of structures Code of Practice
- Safe Work Australia (SWA): Guide for managing the risks of working in heat
- Cancer Institute NSW: NSW Skin Cancer Prevention Strategy
- Cancer Council NSW Guidelines to Shade
- NSW Cancer Council
- Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists
- Australian Standard AS1668.2:2012: The use of ventilation and air conditioning in buildings - Ventilation design for indoor air contaminant control
- ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 55-2013: Thermal environmental conditions for human occupancy
- ISO 7243 (1989) (E) Hot environments – Estimation of the heat stress on working man, based on the WBGT- index (wet bulb globe temperature)
- American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), (2001), “Threshold Limit Values for Chemical Substances and Physical Agents”.