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Protection against UV radiation of the sun

Natural UV radiation of the sun poses an increased risk of cancer for employees who work outdoors

The natural UV radiation of the sun is regarded to be as carcinogenic as asbestos and tobacco. Every year, some 240,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer in Germany. Here, you will learn how employees may be protected when working outdoors.

Two gardeners with sun hat and visor cap while working in the garden. © Uwe Völkner, Fotoagentur FOX

Whether in the construction industry, forestry and agriculture, mail delivery, or also in the fishing industry - people working in these industries have one thing in common: their everyday work is performed exclusively or mainly outdoors. In Germany, this applies to approx. 2.5 million employees. For this group of employees the annual exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation (UV radiation) is as much as three times higher than for employees not working outdoors. In this, it is a solid finding that the risk of catching white skin cancer is increasing with an increase in the accumulated UV life dose. The legislator takes into account this finding by having accepted certain UV-related skin cancer types as a new occupational disease (BK 5103) in the so-called list of occupational diseases in 2015.
Against this background, BAuA has been performing research work for more than 10 years regarding the effects of solar UV radiation on the working conditions of the employees working outdoors. In this, our objective is to develop efficient protective measures for this target group in order to support prevention in business practice this way. For this, we researched the efficiency, practicability, and acceptance of such protection components within the framework of a research project "Protective components to reduce solar UV exposure at outdoor workers" (F 2036). Some results and recommendations can be found on the following pages; a link to the research report can be found in "Publications".

Helpful instrument: the UV index

The UV index is very helpful in assessing the health risks posed by solar UV radiation. The UV index is derived from the erythema-effective (sunburn) radiation intensity of the solar radiation, as measured on a level surface. The UV index is expressed on a scale with values from 0 to 11+. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends using protective measures starting at a UV index value of 3. A data analysis using measured values of the UV metering stations of the solar UV monitoring network in Germany for the years 2000 to 2008 resulted in the finding that this is necessary on 135 to 165 days per year in Germany. The data was used to derive a UV step calendar (table 1) describing the periods and meteorological situations where protective measures are required and not required, respectively.

Simplified UV step calendar Table 1 Simplified UV step calendar including information on the hazard on the basis of the UV index for the working day at workstations exposed to solar radiation in Germany, MESZ: Central European Summer Time in the event of sun: specified UV index is achieved in this period of day and year averaged in the long run during sunny parts of the day

Recommended protective measures

As a matter of principle, the recommendations regarding the protection against solar radiation for the general population do not differ from those to be taken for employees working outdoors. However, employees of certain industries are located outdoors more frequently due to their profession and are exposed more intensively to the solar radiation as a consequence. For these activities, the employer must perform a risk assessment and take and document suitable protective measures, if required. In this, technical and organisational measures must be prioritised over personal protective equipment.

Technical protective measures may be, for example:

  • roofings for permanent outdoor workstations, such as checkout workplaces on parking lots.
  • UV-absorbing covers
  • use of parasols or awnings, e.g. for daycare facilities for children
  • use of UV-absorbing windows for vehicles, e.g. trams, buses, forklift trucks, tractors, excavators, cranes, planes
  • shelters, e.g. for break times

Organisational protective measures may be, for example:

  • instruction of the employees regarding possible hazards caused by the solar radiation and on protective measures
  • limitation of the exposure time to solar radiation as far as possible, e.g. by commencing work earlier
  • scheduling of physically demanding work to be performed in the morning hours with less solar radiation and hence cooler temperatures
  • postponement of less urgent work to be performed in cooler weather
  • refraining from working extra hours when the UV index is high (> 6) and therefore the temperatures are high as well
  • minimisation of any stays in the sun at noon

Suitable personal protective equipment includes, for example:

  • wearing suitable clothing covering the body and headgear. the textiles should be characterised by sufficient UV protection.
  • using sun blockers with a suitable sun protection factor. In so doing, proper application should be observed (uniform and sufficiently thick application of 2 mg/cm²; if the amount applied is too low, this results in a significant reduction of the light protection factor to up to one third).
  • wearing sunglasses. Requirements for sun protection filters for the commercial area are defined in DIN EN 172.

Measurement network

Since 1996, the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has been an associated member of the pan-German measurement network (measuring station Dortmund). The measurement network is intended to continuously, spectrally capture the solar UV radiation measurable on the ground. The measurement network was founded in 1993 by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) together with the Federal Environment Agency (UBA).

The most important tasks of the solar UV measurement network include:

  • assessing the UV radiation from an occupational medicine and ecological point of view.
  • providing information on the protection against UV radiation.
  • providing information on the current UV radiation levels.
  • representing current UV index measured values of all stations, as well as a 3-day forecast for the north, centre, and south of Germany.
  • These are uploaded to the websites of the BfS (see links).
  • publishing the measured values and interpreting them in the annual reports.


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