Occupational Exposure to Sunlight - Guidelines

Printer-friendly version

1. Purpose and Objectives

Exposure to the sun is known to increase the risk of sunburn, eye damage, ageing of the skin and skin cancer. These guidelines provide information about limiting occupational exposure to the sun, as far as reasonably practicable, for workers and students at The University of Queensland and in so doing comply with its 'duty of care' prescribed by the Queensland Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.

2. Definitions, Terms, Acronyms

ARPANSA - Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency

Erythema - Reddening of the skin which can appear after as little as about 12 minutes exposure to bright midday summer sun

nm - nanometres wavelength of non-visible electromagnetic spectrum

UV - Ultra Violet

UV-A - Short wavelength air UV; far UV (180 – 280 nm)

UV-B - Middle UV; erythema UV (280 – 315 nm)

UV-C - Long UV; near UV (315 – 400 nm)

UVR - Ultra-violet radiation

Worker - all UQ Staff and HDR Students, including academics, lecturers, tutors, researchers, sabbatical/visiting staff, casual staff, vacation scholars, volunteers, work experience students (as interpreted from the Work Health and Safety Act 2011)

3. Guidelines Scope/Coverage

This guideline only relates to skin exposure and does not deal with 'heat stress' or 'heat stroke' which are conditions that can develop in some individuals working in a sub-tropical environments. Long periods of exertion in extreme heat can elevate core body temperature and cause heat stress and in extreme cases, fatalities. At The University of Queensland a detailed risk assessment is required prior to commencing outdoor project work in extreme climatic environments. Occupational sweat ratings can help to prevent heat-related illness associated with outdoor work in hot climates and may need to be included as part of a risk assessment. Consultation with an Occupational Hygienist from the Occupational Health and Safety Division is advised for this type of specialist assessment.

4. Guidelines Statement

Workers at the University whose job requires them to perform tasks outdoors are at risk of being subjected to excessive sunlight exposure. This guideline provides information about the measures that should be taken to reduce occupational sunlight exposure as far as reasonably practicable. Excessive sunlight exposure can also occur during work off campus including field trips. Further guidance on this type of work and procedures for mitigating worker risk is available at the PPL 2.30.09 Work Off-Campus Safety. The University recognises that individuals will often incur non-occupational exposure to the sun during recreation and other activities outside the control of the University, but this in no way limits its obligations to, as far as reasonably practicable, provide a safe work environment.

5. Responsibilities

  1. The University is responsible for providing the resources for implementation of these guidelines.
  2. Schools/Centres/Institutes and Divisions are responsible for ensuring a risk management system is in place so that the risks associated with workers being exposed to sunlight are managed effectively in their local areas.
  3. Supervisors are responsible for undertaking risk assessments to ensure jobs, projects or tasks that could expose workers to excessive sunlight are identified and that individuals under their control understand the risks from excessive sun exposure and appropriate resources (see section 6.1.2) are supplied for these individuals. Supervisors must ensure that the appropriate preventative measures as identified by a risk assessment are implemented.
  4. The Director Occupational Health and Safety is responsible for advising the University on the implementation of these guidelines.
  5. The University Radiation Protection Advisor is responsible for providing advice to the University on the health effects of occupational exposure to the sun, practical aspects of UV dosimetry and for assisting the University in implementing the guidelines, including advice on the selection of protective clothing, sunglasses, hats, and sunscreens.
  6. Workers who participate in activities involving exposure to the sun during activities controlled by the University must take reasonable care for their own health and comply with the safety recommendations implemented by their workplace and as described in these guidelines.
  7. Contractors are to implement these guidelines at their cost whilst working at the direction of the University or on University grounds. This agreement shall apply in a similar manner to sub‑contractors.

6. Implementation

For the purposes of these guidelines:

  • Occupational in relation to exposure to the sun includes teaching sessions, field trips and excursions which are part of the University's activities.
  • Reasonably practicable with respect to control measures should be determined in consultation with the Occupational Health and Safety Division, taking into account:
    • the nature of the work
    • the severity of the potential harm to health and the degree of risk that exists
    • the availability and suitability of ways to prevent or mitigate the risk
    • whether the cost of preventing or mitigating the risk is prohibitive in the circumstances

6.1 Measures to minimise occupational exposure to the sun

  1. Where practicable, limit exposure to the sun in the middle of the day, particularly on clear days when there are light high clouds, or during summer. This may necessitate rearranging of work practices.

  2. Avoid sustained working in the sun when your shadow is shorter than your height. Where reasonably practicable, provide mechanical shade on open vehicles or boats and provide sun shelters.

  3. Where practicable, limit exposure to the sun during periods of high predicted UV Index. Sun protection should be used  to protect against skin damage when the UV Index is at three or above as it is strong enough to damage the skin. When the UV Index is below three it is safe to go out in the sun without protection. However it is recommended sun protection is used when the UV Index is below three for the following individuals:

  • outdoor workers who spend extended periods of time outdoors
  • those who work in alpine regions
  • those who work near highly reflective surfaces.

6.1.2 Skin and eye protection

Where a risk assessment demonstrates a worker will be occupationally exposed to sunlight because the inherent requirements of that person's job demands a substantial amount of the working day is spent outdoors, protective clothing, sunglasses, hats and sunscreen for protection against sunlight should be provided by the workplace:

  • Protective clothing - Long sleeves, a collar and long loose trousers will increase the sun protection of clothing. Choose dark coloured fabrics such as greens, blues and reds to inhibit UV light penetration. Close weave fabrics provide the best form of sun protection, as they block out most of the UVR. Fabric with a high ultra violet protection factor (UPF) as outlined in the Australian/New Zealand Standard 4399:1996. A fabric's UPF rating is based on how much UVR is transmitted through the fabric e.g. 50+ is excellent protection.
  • Sunglasses - A wraparound style will reduce UVR entering the eye from the side of the face. Sunglasses must conform to Australian and New Zealand standard Sunglasses and Fashion Spectacles- AS/NZS 1067:2003. Also refer to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency website for further information on lens protection categories. Some workers may need extra eye protection from flying objects or glare. In this case, choose specialist safety sunglasses to meet AS/NZS 1337.1:2010 Eye and face protectors for occupational applications. Safety glasses still provide good solar UV protection but will require tinting for use outdoors. Prescription glasses—either clear or tinted—are not tested against AS/NZS 1067:2003 but may still provide protection against solar UVR. Fit-overs are recommended for prescription glasses as few are close fitting and wraparound in style.
  • Sunscreen should display a protection factor of at least SPF30. It should be broad-spectrum (protecting against UVA and UVB), water resistant and should be applied to dry skin at least 20 minutes prior to sun exposure. The amount of sunscreen to apply for an average sized adult should be at least 1 teaspoon of sunscreen to each limb and 1/2 teaspoon to face and neck. Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every 2 hours. Zinc cream will provide extra protection for lips, ears and nose and gel-based or alcohol-based sunscreens should be chosen if handling tools. Sunscreen should be kept in a cool place below 30°C in easily accessible places like tearooms and site offices. Sunscreen has an expiry date, therefore stock should be checked regularly and replaced as required.
  • Head protection - A hat with a broad brim (10-12cm) and a close weave should be worn to shade both the face and back of the neck. Avoid hats lined with white fabrics as they reflect UVR. If a hardhat is required it should include a flap and/or have a brim added. Legionnaire hats which have flap to cover the neck are more suitable when work involves a lot of bending. The flap should meet with the peak to protect the side of the face.

Note: The provision of protective clothing, sunglasses, hats and sunscreens (as in 6.1.2) should not be considered an alternative to limiting exposure to sunlight through application of the measures in 6.1. Use of the measures in 6.1.2 by themselves should be considered a last choice. A combination of all measures will be most effective.

7. Protecting Against Sun Exposure

Sunburn starts with an erythema followed by tanning or pigment darkening. To avoid the sun and sun-related illness, workers should:

  • Wear personal protection - refer to section 6.1.2.
  • Take precautions and set limits during summer's highest UV exposure time ‑ between 10 am and 2pm. Reorganise work schedules so that outdoor tasks are done early in the morning or late in the day.
  • Rotate or job‑share tasks that involve direct sun exposure.
  • Drive with their vehicle windows up (while maintaining adequate ventilation and cooling) between 10 am and 2pm.
  • Plan the work around the movement of the sun. For instance, do outdoor work on the western and northern side of a building in the morning, and work on the eastern and southern sides in the afternoon.
  • Where possible, do not work in an environment heated by several sources (such as burning off under a mid‑summer sun).
  • Use trees, buildings and temporary shelters (such as awnings or tarps) to shade work and rest areas.
  • Insulate plant and equipment to reduce radiant heat emissions.
  • Where possible, fit a shade to equipment and machinery (such as tractors, small earthmovers, etc). Do not remove shielding that is provided on plant or equipment.
  • Provide laminated windscreens and tinted side windows to trucks or vehicles. Where possible, mechanise physically-demanding tasks.
  • Take rest or meal breaks in shady areas.
  • Drink water frequently. Drink enough water that you never feel thirsty. In extreme conditions drink approximately 1 cup every 15-20 minutes.
  • Gradually adjust your workload when starting or returning to work in hot conditions.
  • Follow a doctor's advice before working in hot conditions if you are on medications such as sedatives, tranquillisers, antidepressants, amphetamines, antispasmodics, diuretics or medication for blood pressure. Medical advice may also be required for other medications such as antibiotics and some acne treatments as they can increase an individuals sensitivity to sunlight.
  • Have a plan in place for treating heat-affected workers.

8. Employment

Where employment may be offered to a person who is likely to be unusually sensitive to sunlight and who is likely to have significant occupational exposure to the sun, the Director of the University Health Service may advise whether an offer of employment is in the mutual interest of the University and that person.

9. Skin Examination

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and the Queensland Cancer Fund advise that sun‑exposed workers should perform regular self examination of their skin, particularly those parts exposed to the sun e.g. face, neck, ears, shoulders, arms and hands. Such workers should consult their local doctor or the University Health Service immediately if they observe any lump, bump, sore or spot which does not heal in 4 weeks, or notice any change in a freckle or mole. Further information on skin self‑examination is available from Cancer Council Australia and from your own general practitioner.

10. Training and Education

Workers or students required to work or perform research activities outdoors should provided with information about the adverse health effects of excessive sun exposure and the relevant preventative measures that are recommended in section 7 and section 9 of this guideline.

11. Further Information on Sun Safety

Further information on sun safety and heat stress can be found at the Safe Work Australia, Guide on Exposure to Solar Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.

12. Contacts for Further Information

Occupational Health Nurse Advisor:

Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael
Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael