In Germany, approximately 2.5 - 3 million people work outdoors regulary and predominantly. For that reason, they run a strikingly increased risk of contracting skin cancer. Natural sunlight contains UVA and UVB radiation that may cause severe skin damages in the long run. Whoever works in the open air, is regularly exposed to this radiation for many years. In order to prevent permanent damages to health, special protection is required. In the worst case, dermatitis, skin aging and skin cancer may occur.
Nowadays, the harmful implications of UV radiation are indisputable. Since 2015, white skin cancer is officially accepted as occupational disease in Germany and has become one of the most reported occupational diseases right after its approval. This has led to a change in dealing with the topic ”sunlight as risk factor“. Now, the awareness with regard to the importance of professional UV protection is much higher among employers and employees than it was a few years ago. Therefore, employers are required by law to provide appropriate protection for every endangered employee. It is considered proven that certain forms of light-related white skin cancer and its precursors are directly and exclusively the result of occupational exposure.
Occupational sun protection is not a private matter of the employees. On the contrary: Adequate protection against UV radiation for occupationally exposed persons is part of the personal protective equipment (PPE) – not just since the so-called ”white skin cancer“ is an accepted occupational disease. Therefore, employers are required by law to provide appropriate protection for every endangered employee
Although UV protection is receiving increasing attention in the industries and professions concerned, the danger is still often underestimated today. The measures taken in companies are not always suitable for effectively protecting employees. Equally problematic is that employees are often not sufficiently informed about the importance of sun protection and how they can effectively protect themselves from damage to health caused by UV radiation. Any employee who regularly works outdoors is at high risk from sunlight. The immediately noticeable damage to health - primarily sunburn and sunstroke - is unpleasant, but far less serious than the impending long-term consequences, such as premature skin aging and skin cancer. The eyes also suffer from UV radiation: in addition to corneal and conjunctival inflammation, the damage suffered can cause cataracts in the long term.
Ultraviolet radiation - UV radiation for short - is an electromagnetic radiation invisible to humans that is contained in natural sunlight. Its wavelengths of 200 to 400 nm are shorter than those of visible light. The relatively long-wave UV-A rays penetrate deeper into the skin and are mainly responsible for accelerated skin aging. The short-wave, high-energy UV-B rays, on the other hand, are the cause of sunburn. All types of UV radiation in this wavelength range contribute to the development of skin cancer. Since the effects of UV-A radiation, in contrast to sunburn in the case of UV-B radiation, are not directly perceived, their danger is very often underestimated. In addition, UV-A rays can also penetrate clouds and even normal window glass.
Artificial UV Radiation
The extremely short-wave UV-C radiation in sunlight is filtered out by the atmosphere and does not reach the earth's surface. However, for certain occupational groups, such as welders and material testers, artificial UV-C rays are a hazard.
Unlike infrared radiation, which is also contained in sunlight and is felt as heat, UV radiation is not perceptible to humans. Subjective perception is therefore of little help in assessing the health risk posed by UV radiation - the actual danger is often underestimated, for example, because the sky is cloudy or a cool wind is blowing. In contrast, the UV index, which indicates the expected daily maximum value around midday, provides meaningful help for assessing the prevailing UV exposure.
Position And Height Of The Sun
Season and daytime play an essential role in the exposure caused by UV rays. The intensity of the solar radiation depends on the angle in which it falls on the earth: The higher the solar altitude and the steeper the angle of incidence, the more intense the radiation. Therefore, the UV exposure in summer is far higher than in winter and reaches its peak at noon. About half of the daily total dose of UV rays hits the earth between 11:00 AM and 01:00 PM. The height above sea level also has significant influence as the radiation intensity increases by about ten percent per 1,000 mete
Risk Factor Reflection
Moreover, stray light reflected by the surrounding contributes significantly to the intensity of the UV radiation. Reflective environment, such as snow, water and light sand, can greatly increase UV exposure as light sand reflects up to 80 % of the radiation, and snow even up to 100 %. Even clouds, which reduce direct UV radiation, can increase the actual UV exposure by reflection for a short time beyond the rate that would prevail in a cloudless sky.
The UV index is a prediction of daily sun and UV exposure. It captures the maximum exposure which is expected at a given location because of damaging UV rays, and is, therefore, a good indication for an accurate risk assessment and the appropriate adaptation of occupational safety measures. The worldwide uniform index is often indicated in weather forecasts and can be accessed on the internet.
Not every human being is equally sensitive to UVB rays. Depending on the skin type, the self-protection time – i.e. the maximum length of time during which untanned skin can be exposed to sunlight one day long without skin reddening – can be between five and forty minutes. Therefore, outdoor workers who work in whole or in part under the open sky must protect themselves from UV radiation in any case. The self-protection time of the skin is always too short to withstand the professionally-induced, increased UV exposure. However, invisible damage, which can lead to skin aging and skin cancer, occurs earlier. You can find more information about skin types in our brochure.
Light protection products are essential for effective UV protection in the workplace. As an integral part of a comprehensive UV protection concept, they offer protection to areas of the skin that cannot be adequately protected by clothing - mostly the face, neck and hands. By reducing the penetration of UV radiation into the skin, sunscreens can reduce the risk of skin cancer by 40%. The prerequisite for effective protection is that suitable products are used that are specially designed for professional use. Equally important: consistent and correct application.
A critical factor for the effectiveness of sunscreens is their application. They must be applied generously and renewed regularly - only then can they develop their protective effect. The sun protection factor indicates the value by which the product extends the skin's self-protection time: for example, a product with SPF 30 allows employees to be exposed to the sun thirty times longer without suffering damage from UV-B rays. However, the protection factor only applies if at least 2 milligrams of protective agent are used per square centimeter of skin. In practice, employees often apply much less, which can reduce the effect or prevent it altogether. In addition, sunscreens lose their effectiveness over time due to friction, perspiration and other influences and must be reapplied about every two hours. Reapplication, however, does not extend the protection time, but only restores the old protective state, which has been reduced in the meantime.
Skin care expert Peter Greven Physioderm (PGP) offers everything employers need for effective UV protection at work. With the help of comprehensive services and professional products, PGP assists companies in providing optimal protection to every affected employee. Risk assessment and accurate protection concepts are also part of PGP’s range of services, as well as information material and training, which impart the correct application of UV protection products to employees on-site. Last but not least, PGP offers high-quality UV protection products that are precisely tailored to the requirements of the professional sector.