Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation & Sun Exposure

Author
Stephanie McCauley

Ultraviolet Radiation

Safety Against Sun Exposure & Ultraviolet Radiation

Welcome to Safe Friday, since July is typically the hottest month of the year, we’re going to offer-up a healthy dose of practical tips to help you combat sun exposure and (UV) ultraviolet radiation. Whether you’re an experienced professional, or new on the job, we’re going to offer something for everyone!

Though the sun has its benefits, it can also prove to be very harsh on your skin and bad for your eyes. Exposure to the sun for long periods of time is very harmful and can cause sunburn, premature skin aging, immune system damage, skin cancer, photosensitivity and eye damage. Here, we will learn how to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of the sun on our body.

  • Damage happens when the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays penetrate deep into the skin and damage cells, and we don’t feel this as it’s happening. Sun damage can occur even when the sun doesn’t feel very hot or you are under a shade
  • Over-exposure to UV light is harmful to the eyes as well. Going out in the sun without proper eye protection can cause a temporary but painful burn to the surface of the eye
  • Staring directly at the sun can permanently scar your retina. Eye inflammation and cataract development are some of the sun’s harmful effects on the eyes
  • Skin cancer is the main risk of exposure to the harmful UV rays. It can affect anyone, but those who have fair skin, fair or light-colored hair, light-colored eyes, sensitive skin or lots of moles and freckles are more prone to skin cancer. A family history of skin cancer and having been severely sun burned at an early age also cause a higher risk
  • You can protect your face and head from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat. This can reduce the amount of UV rays reaching your face and eyes by over 50%. Protect your eyes as well by wearing appropriate eye protection such as sunglasses. Sunglasses have specifications which will ensure you that your eyes are adequately protected. Look for the ‘CE Mark’, a UV 400 label, or an indication that the sunglasses offer a 100% UV protection. Consider sunglasses with wide or wraparound arms
  • The most harmful time of the day to be out under the sun (or when the UV Index is very high) is from 11 am to 3 pm. As much as possible, stay in the shade or indoors during these times. The higher the sun is in the sky, the higher the UV level. UV is generally highest during the summertime as well
  • Heavy cloud cover usually reduces UV radiation levels while UV rays are reflected off surfaces such as snow, water, sand, and concrete, and indirect UV radiation can still significantly affect your overall exposure to the sun’s radiation
  • Wear a sun protection lotion or broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least 15+ sun protection factor (SPF), a higher SPF provides for better sun protection. Be sure to re-apply sunscreen every two hours, especially when swimming, playing, or exercising outdoors
  • Don’t rely entirely on sunscreen for your sun protection. Sunscreen can easily wear off and should never be used to extend sun exposure. The SPF on sunscreens is a laboratory measure that grades the ability of a sunscreen to block UVB radiation. It’s not a number that can be directly translated into an estimate of sun protection or sun-safe practices
  • If you notice any abnormalities or irregularities on your skin after over exposure to the sun, see a doctor immediately. Report mole changes or unusual skin growths to your doctor as these can be a sign of cancer
  • Watch for the UV Index or the intensity of the harmful rays of the sun. A UV Index (UVI) of 1 and 2 are classified as low; UVI of 3, 4, and 5 are moderate; then UVI 6 and 7 are high; UVI 8, 9, and 10 are very high; and a UVI 11 is classified as extreme

Sunscreen is PPE

As we’ve stressed, it’s very important to protect your skin because it shields the rest of your body from potentially harmful Ultra-Violet (UV) or Infra-Red (IR) radiation from the Sun’s rays. Sunscreen may be considered Personal Protective Equipment when used to defend against over-exposure from “photon” radiation.

The type of skin pigmentation (melanin) a person has, and the amount of unprotected exposure to UV and IR rays, will determine the degree of skin reaction. Initially, the skin becomes red, painful and maybe even slightly swollen; later, blisters can form, and the skin may peel or flake.

The best – and most obvious – way to prevent sun damage is to stay out of strong, direct sunlight without preparation and protection.

  • Proper clothing and even ordinary window glass filters out virtually all damaging ultraviolet radiation sun-rays
  • Clouds and fog are not good UV filters, you can still sunburn on cloudy or foggy days
  • Snow, water and sand reflect sunlight, which magnifies the amount of ultraviolet radiation light that reaches your skin
  • Over-the-counter rub-on ointment and cream preparations help protect your skin from these harmful rays

Sunscreen

Before being exposed to strong, direct sunlight, you should apply sunscreen, an ointment or cream containing chemicals that protect the skin by filtering out the UV rays. Many sunscreens are either waterproof or water-resistant. Most current sunscreens contain a chemical called benzophenone that provides protection against a broad range of ultraviolet radiation rays.

Sun-Block

Are effective against burns in areas of the body that are exposed to continuous, direct sunlight such as the nose, lips and cheeks.

Still other sunscreens use physical barriers such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to protect your skin. These thick white ointments block sunlight from your skin. They’re generally used for small sensitive areas, such as your nose and lips. In the United States, sunscreens are rated by their SPF, or sun protection factor, the higher the number, the better the protection. Sun screens with SPF ratings of 15 or more block most UV rays, but no see-through sunscreen can block all UV rays. Most brands tend to block only UVB rays, but UVA rays can also damage your skin. Some of the newer type’s sunscreens are effective against both UVA and UVB rays, so check the labels for these protections when purchasing them.

Healing

Sunburned skin begins to heal by itself within several days, but complete healing may take weeks. Skin surfaces rarely exposed to sunlight tend to burn easily because they have less pigment. They can be particularly uncomfortable and slow to heal. Sun-damaged skin makes a poor barrier against infection, and if one develops, healing may be delayed. After burned skin peels, the new layer of exposed skin is thin and initially very sensitive to sunlight and may remain that way for several weeks.

People who are in the sun a lot have an increased risk of skin cancers. Sunburn also hampers the body’s natural cooling process, perspiration. Wearing light-colored cotton clothing helps reflect bright sun-light, a broad-brimmed hat helps shade your head and neck, a wet bandana around your neck helps keep you cool and wearing the appropriate sunscreen or sun-block helps you cope with the hot sun and avoid the discomfort of a painful sunburn.

Sunburns

The skin shields the rest of your body from potentially harmful sunrays. Over-exposure to the Sun’s UV type A and B radiation will cause sunburn. Your skin pigmentation, and the amount of your unprotected exposure to UV rays, will determine the degree of your skin reaction. Initially, your skin becomes red, painful and maybe even slightly swollen; later, blisters can form, and the skin may peel or flake.

Preventing Sunburn

  • The best – and most obvious – way to prevent sun damage is to stay out of strong, direct sunlight
  • Proper clothing and even ordinary window glass filter out almost all damaging UV sun-rays
  • Clouds and fog are not good UV filters, you can still sunburn on cloudy or foggy days
  • Snow, water and sand reflect sunlight, which magnifies the amount of UV light that reaches your skin
  • Commercially available rub-on ointment and cream preparations help protect your skin from these harmful rays

People who are in the sun a lot have an increased risk of skin cancers. Sunburn also hampers your body’s natural cooling process, which is sweating. Wearing light-colored cotton clothing helps reflect bright sun-light, a broad-brimmed hat helps shade your head and neck, a wet bandana around your neck helps to cool, and the appropriate sunscreen or sun-block will help you cope with the hot sun and avoid the discomfort of a painful sunburn.

Avoiding Ultraviolet Radiation Injuries

Working out in the sun, especially in summer, exposes workers to the highest concentration of UV rays. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are an invisible part of sunlight. These rays can penetrate and change the structure of skin cells. The most dangerous type of the UV ray is ultraviolet A (UVA) because it penetrates beyond the top layer of human skin. UVA radiation can increase the risk for developing skin cancer. Workers at the greatest risk of UV injuries or illness are construction workers, agricultural workers, landscapers, and gardeners. Many commonly used drugs can actually increase the risk of getting sunburn. These include medicines for high blood pressure, diuretics, various antibiotics, and ibuprofen.

The most common hazard from ultraviolet radiation rays is sunburn. This is due to spending too much time outdoors without using sunscreen. Symptoms of severe sunburn can include swelling, blistering, headache, fever, nausea, and fatigue. Years of overexposure to the sun also leads to premature wrinkling, aging of the skin, age spots, and an increased risk of skin cancer. In addition to the skin, your eyes can be burned by exposure to the sun. Sunburned eyes be red, and feel dry, painful, and feel gritty. Prolonged or repeated exposure to the sun can cause permanent eye damage such as cataracts and macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness.

Companies need to protect their workers from UV injuries by:

  • Scheduling outside work when the danger of exposure to the sun is the lowest
  • Offering shaded or indoor break areas
  • Providing training about ultraviolet radiation dangers including:
  • The risk of exposure
  • How to prevent exposure
  • The signs of overexposure

Workers need to protect themselves from UV injuries by:

  • Wearing sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15

An SPF of 15 allows a person to stay safely out in the sun 15 times longer. Although SPF does not provide protection against UVA, it does protect against UVB, which also causes skin damage. Sunscreen is less effective when it’s windy, humid, when you perspire heavily, or not applied properly. Sunscreens more than a year old should be thrown away. Be sure to apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before sun exposure, while applying it to all exposed areas of the body (i.e. the ears, scalp, lips, neck, and backs of hands). Apply more sunscreen every 2 hours, or more frequently if you’re perspiring heavily.

Workers should also prevent sunburn by wearing appropriate clothing. Tightly woven dark clothing is more protective than light-colored, loosely woven clothing. High-SPF clothing is also available for those with sensitive skin or a history of skin cancer. Workers should wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses with almost 100% UVA and UVB protection and with side panels.

Follow these safety guidelines on sun exposure when you’re working in the sun. Health is vital to keeping your job. Stick to these safety practices for your own good health and safety.

We have complete sun exposure and ultraviolet radiation safety solutions for all your needs. Call (877) 640-6571 today to speak with one of our highly skilled safety experts.

Please join us next Friday for more safety and compliance tips!

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