UV radiation

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Exposure to UV radiation can have negative consequences for health that should not be underestimated. Skin damage can occur even without sunburn. In the long term, skin cancer can develop.

Since the occupational disease with the number 5103 "Squamous cell carcinoma or multiple actinic keratoses of the skin caused by natural UV radiation" was added to the list of recognised occupational diseases in 2015, over 38,617 cases had been recognised by 2022. This makes this type of skin cancer, light or white skin cancer due to natural UV radiation, one of the most frequently recognised occupational diseases. An average increase in cases of non-melanocytic (light or white) skin cancer of around 8 per cent per year is expected in Europe in the future.

"The rate of skin cancer has doubled since 2000. I think we can rightly talk about an avalanche that is going to hit us in the next few years, because the skin cancer cases that are being reported now were actually caused years earlier". Prof Manigé Fartasch, Head of "Clinical and Experimental Occupational Dermatology" at the Institute for Prevention and Occupational Medicine of the German Social Accident Insurance (IPA).

Responsibility of the company management

In organisations and companies, the management is responsible for the health and safety of its employees at work. This also includes protection from sunlight. In Germany, it is estimated that around seven million people work outdoors and are heavily exposed to UV radiation during their professional activities. It is important to take protective measures at an early stage in order to preserve the health of employees.

Fewer clouds, more UV exposure

One of the effects of climate change is a reduction in cloud cover and thus an increase in sunshine duration. On average, this is already leading to increasing UV exposure. Low ozone events, also known as "mini-ozone holes", are now also being recorded more frequently. "Mini-ozone holes" can lead to short-term and unexpectedly high UV exposures. This in turn can increase the risk of UV overexposure with the associated negative health consequences.

Based on analysis and measurement data on occupational UV exposure, researchers at the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the DGUV (IFA) have found that a high level of exposure to UV radiation can already be present at a proportion of around 20 per cent of daily working time outdoors. Irrespective of this, however, even lower levels of exposure can lead to negative health consequences in the medium to long term. In order to develop a reliable basis for the assessment of workplaces, the GENESIS-UV research project has been collecting measurement data for a register of the solar exposure of employees who work outdoors since 2014.

UV protection - examples of preventive measures:

In the case of workplaces with possible (natural) UV exposure, possible hazards must be recognised during outdoor activities and specific measures derived to eliminate or at least reduce the exposure of employees.

Some examples of measures are listed in the following table.

UV protection measures (table)

Exemplary measures for protection against UV radiation in the workplace are divided in the following table according to the so-called "TOP principle": technical, organisational and personal measures. The prevention measures must be adapted to the company or organisation depending on the sector, working environment and legal requirements.

Technical measures Provide shade Set up parasols
Stretch awnings
Create shade
Inform and sensitise Inform employees about the risks of heat and sun exposure as well as suitable protective measures. Promote a culture of sun protection in the workplace.
Organisational measures Adaptation of working hours Minimise time spent in direct sunlight.
Flexible break arrangements Adapt the type and extent of breaks to the working conditions.
Creation of shaded areas Invest in sufficient shaded areas, shaded workstations and sun protection measures
Personalised measures Clothing Clothing should cover the body completely.
Protect your head and neck Wear a hat/scarf to protect yourself from UV radiation; headgear with neck protection.
Protect your eyes Sunglasses with sufficient UV protection.
Protect skin Apply sun cream with a high UV protection factor to parts of the body that are not covered. Sun cream with high to very high UV protection (at least SPF 30+) for all parts of the body that are not covered.

It is not only the effectiveness of the protective measures that is important, but also their practicability and acceptance, so that the prevention programmes are accepted by the employees. It is therefore important to engage in dialogue with employees in order to increase the acceptance of prevention measures.