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UV Exposure Safety

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Summer is a great time to be outdoors. Many districts execute many outdoor maintenance activities during the summer. All that sunshine means lawns will need to be mowed, and making repairs to infrastructure is certainly a lot easier in summer than it is in winter.

Sometimes this can mean too much of a good thing. Colorado’s high altitude means that there is an average of more than 6,000 fewer feet of atmosphere deflecting and filtering ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. This makes anyone outside in that weather more vulnerable to sun-related illness, including cancer, heat stroke, eye damage, and sunburn.

According to the EPA, ultraviolet exposure increases between 4 and 10% for every 1,000 feet you are above sea level, depending on cloud cover. That is how the UV index is determined. Because of altitude, the ultraviolet intensity in Denver is on average 20% greater than Los Angeles, California or Portland, Oregon, which lie basically at sea level.

Prevention

It is important that you make sure employees are using the proper equipment and safeguards when working in the sun. Everyone, especially lifeguards, should use sunscreen with adequate SPF measurements to prevent sunburn.

Other workers should wear light-colored clothing and wide-brimmed hats to deflect more of the sunlight. Sunglasses are also a good idea to prevent eye damage or to keep glare from blinding workers while they work with heavy equipment. Whenever possible, the district should provide tents, shades, or small structures to offer workers a respite from the sun.

We’ve also added a few tips on this page that come from the CDC and OSHA. Also remember that sun shades and similar measures could qualify for the Safety and Loss Prevention Grant program.

Protecting Yourself from Sun Exposure (from the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health)

SUNBURN

Sunburn is not immediately apparent. Symptoms usually start about 4 hours after sun exposure, worsen in 24-36 hours, and resolve in 3-5 days. They include red, tender and swollen skin, blistering, headache, fever, nausea, and fatigue. In addition to the skin, eyes can become sunburned. Sunburned eyes become red, dry, painful, and feel gritty. Chronic eye exposure can cause permanent damage, including blindness.

First Aid

  • Take aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to relieve pain, headache and fever
  • Drink plenty of water to help replace fluid losses
  • Comfort burns with cool baths or gentle application of cool wet cloths
  • Avoid further exposure until the burn has resolved
  • Use a topical ointment of moisturizing cream, aloe, or 1% hydrocortisone cream to provide additional relief

If blistering occurs:

  • Lightly bandage or cover the area with gauze to prevent infection
  • Do not break blisters (this only slows healing and increases risk of infection)
  • When the blisters break and the skin peels, dried skin fragments may be removed and an antiseptic ointment or hydrocortisone cream may be applied

Seek medical attention if any of the following occur:

  • Severe sunburn covering more than 15% of the body
  • Dehydration
  • High fever (>101 F)
  • Extreme pain that persists for longer than 48 hours

SKIN CANCER

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The most common types of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Indicators of skin cancer may include:

  • Irregular borders on moles (ragged, notched, or blurred edges)
  • Moles that are not symmetrical (one half doesn’t match the other half)
  • Colors that are not uniform throughout
  • Moles that are bigger than a pencil eraser
  • Itchy or painful moles
  • New moles
  • Sores that bleed and do not heal
  • Red patches or lumps

PROTECT YOURSELF

  • Avoid prolong exposure to the sun when possible
  • Wear sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15
    • SPF refers to how long a person will be protected from a burn (SPF 15 means a person can stay in the sun 15-times longer before burning,) SPF only refers to UVB protection)
    • To protect against UVA , look for products containing meroxyl, parsol 1789, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone
    • Sunscreen performance is affected by wind, humidity, perspiration, and proper application
    • Throw away sunscreens after 1-2 years (they lose potency)
    • Apply liberally (minimum of 1 oz) at least 20 minutes before sun exposure
    • Apply to ears, scalp, lips, neck, tops of feet, and backs of hands
    • Reapply at least every 2 hours and each time a person gets out of the water or perspires heavily
    • Some sunscreens may lose their effectiveness when applied with insect repellents, so you may need to reapply more often
  • Wear clothing with a tight weave or high-SPF clothing
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses with UV protection and side panels
  • Take breaks in shaded areas

Resources:

Environmental Protection Agency’s UV Index Page: https://www.epa.gov/sunsafety/uv-index-1
CDC Page on Sun Exposure: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/sunexposure/

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