Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a major cause of skin cancer, and it impacts workers anywhere the sun is strong, including places like Arizona. There are also artificial sources of UV rays, such as certain lamps used in manufacturing plants, according to the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
In other words, you don’t have to live in Australia or New Zealand to be concerned your workers are getting too much sun. Even if workers are indoors, certain machines can produce ultraviolet radiation that employer should be aware of in order to reduce your employees’ risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer is one of the chronic effects of UV radiation exposure, and it can leave employers open to workers compensation claims and harm the productivity of workers.
How do you protect someone from something that can’t be seen with the naked eye? Fortunately, there are several ways to keep your employees safe as they do their jobs.
When indoors, use UV detectors to determine exposure
For indoor manufacturing environments, testing the level of exposure requires certain tools that can determine how much workers are being exposed to radiation over the course of a single work day. If you are using industrial lamps, such as lamps for sterilization and disinfection, along with photocuring and hardening lamps, then you are putting your workers at risk for UV radiation if the lamps are improperly handled. Industries in which workers use open arcs (electric welding torches) are especially in danger of being exposed to harmful radiation, according to ICNIRP.
Employers are encouraged to use UV detectors to see if the company work environment is staying well within the safe range for these devices, and might also want to ensure workers who are using arc welders are using proper personal protective equipment (PPE), especially safety eyewear, to prevent UV radiation injuries. Employers may want to check regularly to ensure there are no leaks in the protective clothing where UV radiation can seep inside.
Outside, be sure to watch for signs of exposure
According to Canadian Ministry of Labor, the most obvious sign of exposure to UV radiation is a sunburn. Other signs of UV radiation are “snow-blindness” which feels like sand in the eye. Damage to the skin from UV radiation accumulates over time, so that even when the weather is not particularly warm, if the sun is bright enough, workers might get sunburned because they don’t realize that radiation is not linked to temperature.
The long-term effects of exposure to UV radiation include cataracts, photoaging and the risk of skin cancer, which may happen after years of time working in the sun. Photoaging means a person’s skin turns leathery from over-exposure. However, skin cancer can happen more rapidly than photoaging.
Indoors, employers must be sure that workers have the proper protection from all lamps and arc welders. Additionally, these tools must be tested to be sure they are not emitting UV light in gaps or seams where someone might be exposed accidentally.
Outside, the usual protection from the sun is required. This includes natural and artificial shade, according to Safe Work Australia (SWA). Additionally, employers may want to encourage workers to use sunscreen in conjunction with sun hats and loose clothing. When the sun is most intense, SWA recommends that workers stay out of the sun as much as possible and operate in the shade doing tasks that do not require employees be exposed to UV light.
When it comes to using PPE, OSHA requires that workers be informed about what kind of PPE is required and when it is required, among other things. Keep your workers informed about how they can protect themselves.