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Affecting Employee Choices

July is National Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Month!

 SoaresPosted by Tony Soares, CSP, CHMM, CSHE

We knew the “dog days of summer” were coming. Now that they are here, we should all be thinking about taking care of our skin. We spend more time outdoors during the summer months and we’re more exposed to the sun. The summer heat might feel great on your skin, but taking appropriate precautions both at work and at home makes good sense.

Ultraviolet light (UV) is part of the invisible light spectrum that reaches us from the sun each day. In fact, there are three UV spectrums called A, B and C. UVC is blocked almost completely by the ozone layer. UVA, the longer light wave, penetrates deep into the lower layer of the dermis and can cause permanent skin damage, premature aging, and skin cancer. UVB is the shorter light wave and does not penetrate the skin as far, but it can still cause skin damage, sunburns, and also skin cancer.

Since both types of ultraviolet light are harmful, and both are responsible for skin cancer, choose a broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB protection) water-resistant (if you think you may be swimming or sweating) sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

A positive outcome from UVB exposure is the production of vitamin D, an organic compound essential for bone health and immune system function. However, using this as an excuse to work on your tan can lead to real problems, and isn’t a complete source for vitamin D. Consider this excerpt taken from the Skin Cancer Foundation website:

  • Our bodies manufacture vitamin D when the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays interact with 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) present in the skin. "However, we can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D from UVB. A few minutes at midday are sufficient for many Caucasians," says Roy Geronemus, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center and director of the Skin/Laser Division at the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary. "After reaching the production limit, further exposure actually destroys the vitamin, decreasing vitamin D levels."
  • Furthermore, UV exposure is unlikely to produce enough vitamin D in darker skin, so African-Americans and dark-skinned Hispanics relying on UV alone are especially at risk for deficiency. The National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements also warns that the elderly have a reduced ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight; and between November and February, UV radiation (UVR) is insufficient to produce vitamin D in people living above 42 north latitude, which includes Boston, northern California, and other areas north.
  • Finally, prolonged exposure to UVR is linked to skin cancer, immune system suppression, photoaging (sun-induced skin aging), cataracts, and other eye damage. Therefore, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends obtaining vitamin D largely from food or supplements while continuing to follow the Foundation's skin cancer Prevention Guidelines.

According to OSHA, workers must be protected against known hazards. UV radiation is certainly a known hazard. Although sunscreen can be considered appropriate PPE for workers exposed to the sun, it also appears on the list of PPE items that employers are not required to pay for. But that doesn’t mean that workers are on their own, or that employers shouldn’t be concerned about protecting their workers exposed to the sun. Workers should limit their time in the sun, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM, wear clothing to cover the skin (including a hat), wear sunglasses, and reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.

For more information on sunscreen protection, please visit the Skin Cancer Foundation website, the Cancer Net website, the CDC website or our previous sun safety posts.

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