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Solar UV Radiation and Cancer - BCGEU

Did you know that outdoor workers are 3.5 times more likely to develop skin cancer in contrast with indoor workers ? The dangers to working outdoors for operational services Component members extend beyond the safety hazards from moving machinery and equipment, but also from unprotected, prolonged exposure to solar UV radiation, which is the primary cause of skin cancer. Exposure to solar UV radiation is also a risk factor in the development of eye cancer. 

The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation, visible light, and infrared radiation. UVA, UVB, and UVC radiation make up the three categories of ultraviolet radiation. With a shorter wavelength than visible light and infrared radiation, exposure to UV radiation is more hazardous to living tissue. Our skin is able to reflect solar UV radiation, but absorbs some of it, which aids in the production of vitamin D in our body. However, prolonged solar UV radiation exposure is a risk factor in the development of cancers of the skin and eyes.

Sun Safety at Work Canada (SSAWC) is a Health Canada funded organization that focuses on raising awareness and improving sun safety for working Canadians. According to SSAWC, there are 1.5 million to 5.4 million Canadians exposed to solar UV radiation at work1. Approximately 67% of these workers spend at least two hours working in the sun each day1. The more time you spend in the sun unprotected and exposed to intense solar UV radiation, the higher your risk is for developing skin (dermal) and eye (ocular) cancers.

Long and short-term solar UV exposure is a risk factor is the development of the conditions listed below : 

Short-term exposure could lead to:

  • Sunburn
  • Inflammation on exposed skin 
  • Skin irritation 
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Erythema (skin reddening) 
  • Eye irritation
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Conjunctivitis and Photokeratitis (painful eye inflammations) 
  • Temporary loss of vision 
  • Long-term damage to the corneas

Long-term exposure could lead to: 

  • Severe burns and blisters
  • Premature skin aging
  • Skin cancer
  • Eye cancer
  • Cataracts
  • Blindness

The UV Index is the measure of the intensity of solar UV radiation that leads to the reddening of the skin . The intensity of UV radiation can range from 0 to 11+ (low to extreme). Click here for a resource from Environment Canada on the recommended sun protection actions for each level of the UV Index. The intensity of solar UV radiation exposure varies according to the geography, season, weather, time of day, amount of time spent outdoors, reflection from surfaces, and amount of skin exposed. Solar UV radiation is a concern even in the winter months and intensifies when reflected off certain surfaces such as snow. Certain chemicals, medications, foods, hereditary, a lower melanin pigment, and susceptibility to burns are risk factors that can increase our likelihood of UV radiation-related dermal and ocular disorders and diseases. You can find more information here. 

The Workers Compensation Act (WCA) Part 2, Division 4, Section 21 mandates that employers ensure the health and safety of all their workers and remedy any workplace conditions that are hazardous to the health and safety of their workers. Furthermore, the WCA Part 2, Division 4, Section 22 and 23, stipulate that workers and supervisors also play a role in ensuring their own health and safety and the health and safety of workers under their supervision, respectively. Preventing and controlling exposure to solar UV radiation should be a collaborative effort. 

Employers and supervisors must ensure that their workers are made aware of all known or reasonably foreseeable hazards that they are likely to be exposed by their work. This means that if you are at a risk of exposure to solar UV radiation, your employer must ensure that you are made aware of the hazards associated with solar UV exposure. The employer must first look to eliminate the hazard. If the hazard cannot be eliminated, the employer must then look to mitigation by using engineering, administrative, or personal protective equipment controls to reduce the exposure of workers. Some controls are listed below :


The good news is that dermal and ocular disorders and diseases resulting from exposure to solar UV radiation are preventable, provided consistent precautions and measures are taken. Raise the issue of exposure to solar UV radiation to your joint occupational health and safety committee (JOHSC). If you are a member of the JOHSC, add "solar UV radiation exposure" to the agenda for your next committee meeting. In doing so, you and your employer have agreed upon steps the committee can take to educate and train all workers about the hazards solar UV radiation exposure and implement the most effective controls.

Download PDF of notice here.