In recent years melanoma awareness campaigns by bodies such as the World Health Organisation and Cancer Research UK, have heightened many people’s concerns regarding skin cancer associated with UV light exposure from the sun. The number of new cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year in the UK has more than doubled since the early 1980s. This figure is predicted to treble during the next 30 years. This rapid increase is generally attributed to greater recreational exposure to sunlight, including the trend, particularly over the last 30 years, of taking holidays abroad.
This kind of publicity, along with media coverage highlighting the dangers of sunbeds and daily weather forecasts incorporating the UV index has understandably increased concerns of workers exposed to artificial UV light sources, which are used for a wide range of industrial, medical and public service applications. The result is widespread misinformation and misunderstanding regarding UV light exposure in the workplace. The aim of this publication is to provide the information to help employers meet their obligations for the safe use of UV light equipment and to gain the confidence and acceptance of the workforce.
It is well established and generally agreed that low-level exposure to certain wavelengths of UV light provides some health benefits, for example, synthesis of vitamin D3, which improves the body’s absorption of calcium, particularly into the bones. On the other hand, overexposure to UV light can cause adverse health effects, such as erythema, photo conjunctivitis and photokeratitis in the short term (acute effects) and can be attributed to premature skin ageing, skin cancer and cataracts as a result of repeated exposure in the long term (chronic effects).
The key is to avoid overexposure in order to avoid short term injuries and reduce the long term risks. National regulations and international guidelines require control of personal UV light exposure in the workplace.
Occupational UV light exposure in Great Britain is subject to the Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations 2010, which brought into law on 27th April 2010, the European Physical Agents (Artificial Optical Radiation 2006/25/EC) Directive (AORD). This incorporates statutory UV light exposure limit values (ELVs) which are based on those defined by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). It specifies the minimum requirements for the protection of workers from risks to their health and safety arising or likely to arise from exposure to artificial UV light during their work.
Furthermore, it dictates that in cases of persons subjected to UV light emissions from artificial sources, employers must determine personal UV light exposure levels and compare with the exposure limit values as a means of assessing risks and necessary controls. Workers should not be exposed above the exposure limit values and must be provided with specific information, instruction and training.
Where personal UV light exposure levels comply with the exposure limit values, the risk can be considered low for the majority of the population and adequately controlled so far as is reasonably practicable.
Where personal UV light exposure exceeds the exposure limit values, then this constitutes a regulatory offence and additional control measures must be implemented which decrease exposure to below the exposure limit values.
This publication is intended to provide a practical guide to risk assessment and control of personal UV light exposure from artificial sources in the workplace.
It deals solely with the hazard of UV light exposure and does not cover associated hazards. This publication does not cover natural sunlight, sun beds, lasers or medically prescribed UV light treatments.