Outdoor workers are exposed to more sunlight and therefore to more carcinogenic ultraviolet radiation than other workers. Before now, accurate information was not available on the extent to which particular occupations are associated with exposure to sunlight. This knowledge gap has now been closed by the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance (IFA). The institute has conducted a research project in which it recorded and interpreted detailed exposure data for the most diverse of tasks performed outdoors. The results show that over the summer months, the exposure of the affected occupational groups varies as widely as their work. Tailored prevention activity is therefore important.
Since 2015, basal-cell and squamous-cell carcinomas caused by solar radiation have been recognized in Germany as an occupational disease. This particularly concerns people whose occupations result in their spending much time working outdoors. Should an occupational disease occur, the German Social Accident Insurance delivers benefits. At the same time however, it uses all suitable means to prevent occupational diseases from occurring in the first place. "For this purpose, we need very precise information on which workers are subjected to particularly high exposure," says Dr Walter Eichendorf, Deputy Director General of the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV). "Only then can we take preventive measures that are appropriate and effective."
This information has now been provided by the IFA as the result of a major study conducted to date on 600 persons. The results show for example that sewer construction and quarry workers are exposed to over three times as much UV radiation as persons working in arable farming or making postal deliveries on foot. "We were really surprised by some of the results," says Dr Marc Wittlich, radiation expert at the IFA and manager of the project. "Exposure on construction sites for example varies widely, depending upon whether roofing work is being performed or scaffolds erected." The reasons for this, he says, must now be examined more closely. "But it is clear," says Wittlich, "that for all the workers studied, the exposure is sufficiently high to require action."
The German occupational safety and health act requires employers to give priority to technical and organizational solutions when taking protective measures. "Such solutions include the use of awnings, or the replanning of outdoor work for times of the day with lower UV radiation exposure, such as the early morning or late evening," says Bernhard Arenz, Prevention Manager at the German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the building trade (BG BAU). "If these measures are not sufficient, it is essential that clothing covering the whole body and protection for the head are also worn," explains Reinhold Knittel, management spokesperson for the SVLFG (Social insurance for agriculture, forestry and landscaping). "Sunscreen products should be used when other forms of protection are not possible, and they must have a high sun protection factor."
In the summer, protection is needed even for work of only a few minutes' duration outdoors, since long-term harm can occur even in the absence of sunburn. "This is something that should be considered not only at work, but also at other times," says Eichendorf.
Skin cancer caused by UV radiation is one of the future challenges for the prevention of occupational diseases and work-related health hazards. At the same time, little is known about the radiation doses associated with tasks performed outdoors. Worldwide, the studies conducted to date are few in number and are limited to specific regions.
The GENESIS-UV research project (GENeration and Extraction System for Individual expoSure) is a study commissioned by the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions. In order for the radiation dose to be determined and evaluated at the greatest possible number of different outdoor workplaces, the IFA has developed a measurement system with which the UV radiation exposure can be measured directly on the person for the duration of a complete working shift, without the worker being constrained in their task.
All test persons are supplied with the equipment for the GENESIS-UV system. It consists of a data logger/dosimeter and a tablet PC. The system automatically records exposure data between 7:30 am and 5:30 pm. The data are read out and transferred to a central database server at the end of each working week. The instrument is connected to the tablet PC for this purpose; the subsequent process is then automatic. In this way, the IFA receives up-to-date measured values each week from all regions in Germany. The data are interpreted anonymously. Only the task studied is considered; the data do not enable individuals to be identified.
To date, 600 test subjects have been equipped with the system. Since 2014, 2,300,000,000 records have been obtained on a total of 65,000 measurement days. These data form the basis of the project results. Further details concerning the results will be published in the near future on www.dguv.de/genesis.