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.
© 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, the 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".
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.
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:
Organisational protective measures may be, for example:
Suitable personal protective equipment includes, for example:
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: