Repeated exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation places workers at risk for various forms of skin cancer and eye diseases. Skin cancer is not usually the result of a single, painful sunburn. Small changes occur to the skin each time it is exposed to sunlight and repeated exposure can cause progressive damage to the skin’s biological structure. Skin cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in the United States, and the number of skin cancer cases in the United States continues to rise each year. The American Cancer Society estimates that over one million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. Skin cancers related to sun exposure include squamous cell cancer, basal cell cancer, and melanoma. UV radiation also damages the sensitive retinal and corneal areas of the eyes. Long term exposure can cause macular degeneration, cataracts, tissue growths such as pterygium, and cancer of the eyelids. These disorders affect vision and in some cases cause blindness.
The sun’s rays are most intense and damaging during the summer months. The greatest exposure occurs from 10:00am until 4:00pm, but you can still get a sunburn during cloudy weather, other seasons, and other times of the day. The areas of the body most at risk are: back of the neck, ears, face,eyes, and arms. These and other body parts can be easily protected by wearing proper clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Risk can be reduced by taking precautions and avoiding repeated exposures to the sun. Protection for the face and other parts of the head can be as simple as wearing a hat. A hat with a 2 or 3 inch brim is ideal. Proper clothing protects against damaging UV radiation and minimizes heat stress. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants in lightweight, tightly woven fabrics (preferably 100% cotton) provide both comfort and protection. UV-absorbent sunglasses can help protect your eyes from sun damage. The best sunglasses should block 99 to 100% of UV radiation including the entire spectrum of UVA and UVB radiation. If no UV rating is specified, the sunglasses may offer nominal or no protection.
Parts of the body that cannot be covered with clothing should be protected with a sunscreen, though sunscreens should not be a substitute for wearing proper clothing. When selecting a sunscreen look at the label for two important properties. You should choose a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that protects your skin from both types of harmful UV rays — the UVA rays and the UVB rays. Also look at the “sun protection factor (SPF). The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you select a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher. A SPF 30 rating means that your skin is protected from the sun 30 times longer than without the sunscreen. An SPF 30 product blocks 97% of UVB rays; while an SPF 45 product blocks about 98% of rays. Sunscreen with an SPF more than 45 offer little additional protection. Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours or after swimming, drying off, or sweating. Make sure you are protected by reapplying sunscreen often. You just can’t put it on in the morning and forget about it – after a few hours it’s gone.