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Exposure to UV light regulations not being applied

It may come as a surprise to many but our experience with on-site surveys to measure UV light personal exposure levels and feedback from our regular training courses suggests that several years after the introduction of the EU regulations on workplace exposure to UV light, many companies and industry sectors are still not aware of their statutory obligations under the legislation.

That is not to say, of course, that companies do not recognise that the process use of UV light in the workplace impacts on operators or that they do not invest in meeting health and safety requirements. However, our experience shows that there is a lack of awareness and a great deal of misunderstanding about these relatively new – and it has to be said – complex regulations and the stringent, statutory exposure limits specified.

The Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations 2010 brought into UK law the Artificial Optical Radiation 2006/25/EC Directive. This imposes legal duties on employers to protect workers who may be at risk from artificial UV light exposure.

Typically, UV light exposure risks can occur with curing of UV adhesives, coatings and paints, fluorescent inspection applications; UV light disinfection for killing bacteria and viruses and the unintended by-product of metal fabrication such as welding and plasma cutting.

Employee UV light exposure levels are a function of the UV light spectral output of the equipment, the UV light irradiance level (at a specified distance from the light source) and exposure time. By taking measurements at the operation position for each piece of equipment in its particular application, the maximum permissible UV light exposure time can be calculated. It has to be borne in mind that exposure is cumulative and limits cannot be exceeded within an eight hour period per day.

In the case of welding, for example, the effects are not only on the operator, who will undoubtedly have personal protective equipment but also on employees in the vicinity. Employees walking by a welding station up to several metres away can exceed in seconds the legal level of personal UV light exposure.

The headline UV light exposure limits in the directive for broadband sources state 30 J/m² eff for the skin and eyes exposed to UV light in the wavelength region 180-400 nm and 10,000 J/m² for eyes exposed to wavelengths 315-400 nm. Depending on the UV light source, one or both limits may apply. It is a regulatory offence for workers to exceed these exposure limits.

However, the key difficulties for most companies are understanding which exposure limit is applicable for the eyes, assessing correctly the levels of exposure and, therefore, the risks. Our one-day training course is designed specifically to help employers meet their legal obligations for a safe workplace and working environment. We run similar courses for employees to raise their levels of hazard awareness.

In addition to the courses, we have published our own technical guide ’Safety First with UV Light – a practical guide to risk assessment and control of personal UV light exposure from non-coherent artificial sources in the workplace’.

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