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Protecting Your Eyes at Work from Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation

USE OUR ULTIMATE GUIDE TO LEARN HOW TO PROTECT YOUR EYES AT WORK FROM ULTRAVIOLET (UV) RADIATION While most of us are aware that sunburn can lead to premature ageing...



While most of us are aware that sunburn can lead to premature ageing and skin cancer, medical evidence shows that our eyes too can suffer from sunburn, which can lead to cataracts (a leading cause of blindness), as well as other vision impacting eye conditions.

The long-term effects of excessive amounts of UV radiation happen slowly and painlessly, yet can impair vision. Short-and long term damage to the eye includes inflammation of the cornea, cataracts and pterygium (a fleshy growth on the cornea). Young adults (including apprentices) are especially at risk, however UV radiation poses a risk to all members of society.

Safety Sunglasses and tinted safety glasses are not just designed to protect eyes from traditional onsite risks such as flying fragments and objects from hammering, chipping, riveting, machine cutting of materials, grinding, machining metals, brick cutting and wood working, but are also designed to protect eyes from UV radiation. Safety Sunglasses are essential for preventing eye damage caused by the sun’s UV radiation. Safety Sunglasses also eliminate the discomfort and disabling effects of bright light, allowing outdoor workers to work in comfort and not be affected by the discomfort of bright sunny conditions, which Australia is known for. For workers working in very bright conditions where glare is present, Polarised Safety Glasses can be used for additional glare reduction.

What is Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation?

UV radiation is a component of solar energy, as are visible light and infrared radiation (heat). Other sources of UV radiation include welding arcs, high intensity mercury vapour lights and tanning lamps. UV radiation consists of three main types: UVA, UVB and UVC. Employers and Employees need to be concerned manly with UVB which causes sunburn and is largely responsible for causing skin cancer.

Most solar UV radiation striking the earth is absorbed by the ozone layer. It has been calculated that a one percent decrease in the amount of atmospheric ozone will increase UVB levels by about two percent. According to predictions of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, more than 36,000 additional cases of eye problems a year will occur as a result of ozone depletion. A one percent rise in UV radiation levels would increase the annul incidence of Pterygia in Australia by 26,000 cases.

Effects of UV Radiation on the Eyes

Effects on the Cornea

Most UV radiation striking the eye is absorbed by the cornea and high UV levels such as those encountered in bright conditions at outdoor worksites, sandy conditions, mine sites, oil and gas rigs, beaches and snowy conditions can cause it to be inflamed.

The condition is extremely painful and causes the eye to be highly sensitive to any light source. Although extremely uncomfortable, the condition usually resolves itself in about 48 hours and it is advisable to have an eye examination by an Optometrist to ensure that no other damage has occurred.

Effects on the Conjunctiva

Short-term exposure to UV radiation can damage the Conjunctiva, while long-term exposure can cause it to thicken, forming a fleshy growth known as a Pterygium. Progress of this condition is usually slow, with the Pterygium growing until it starts to cover part of the Cornea when it can interfere with vision and become unsightly.

The only treatment is surgical removal, which is a relatively minor procedure. The eye should be examined by an expert to differentiate between Pterygia and other more serious growths.

Effects on the Eye’s Lens

UV radiation, particularly UVB, is associated with the formation of Cataracts. These are opacities that form in the lens of the eye and interfere with vision, as though you were looking through a dirty window.

In severe cases, Cataracts can be removed surgically and the old clouded lens replaced by an artificial one. Cataracts have always been more common among elderly people and were thought to be a natural result of ageing. Recent research suggest that while this may be partly true, they are much more likely to be caused by prolonged exposure to UV radiation, which can also damage the Retina (the delicate nerve-rich lining of the eye used for seeing). Most forms of retinal damage are irreversible.

How to avoid the effects of UV radiation

The simplest way of protecting your eyes from UV radiation is to limit your exposure to it. The best ways of doing this are to:

  • Avoid the Sun: In summer, three-quarters of outdoor UV exposure occurs between 10 am and 4pm. Staying out of the sun between those times will significantly reduce your UV exposure. Whilst on the weekends, this may be feasible, it is not practical for workers on outdoor sites. For those workers, to the extent possible, seek the shade where possible.
  • Wear a Hat: A broad-brimmed hat will protect your head from sunburn and reduce the amount of UV radiation reaching your eyes by at least half.
  • Wear Safety Sunglasses: A good pair of Safety Sunglasses will reduce the amount of UV reaching your eyes and cut the amount of glare. They also provide all the benefits of traditional clear safety glasses and protection from low velocity flying fragments (from hammering, handling wire, rocks, bricks or cement, manual chipping & riveting) and medium velocity flying objects (from machine cutting of materials, grinding, machining metals, brick cutting & wood working.
  • Wear Tinted Safety Goggles: Tinted Safety Goggles are safety goggles fitted with tinted lenses for outdoor use. These safety goggles not only provide the additional protection from the goggle design, but also provide protection from UV radiation.

Which Safety Sunglasses should you choose?

Only purchase Safety Sunglasses which comply with Australian Safety Standards, not Australian Sunglasses Standards

All sunglasses on sale in Australia must meet an Australian Standard that specifies how much UV radiation the sunglasses must block. Safety Sunglasses and tinted safety glasses must meet the more stringent Australian Safety Standard AS/NZS 1337.1. Normal sunglasses cannot be used on worksites as they do not provide adequate protection from onsite risks. Therefore, employers and employees must ensure they are using Safety Sunglasses approved under Australian Safety Standard AS/NZS 1337.1. All Safety Sunglasses and tinted safety glasses supplied by Eye Protect meets or exceeds Australian Safety Standards.

Select a wrap around model

Safety Sunglasses should be close-fitting to prevent radiation exposure around the edge of frames. Wrap-around models are an excellent choice.

Choose a dark tinted lens

Darker tinted lenses with a lower transmittance provide a higher amount of protection from UV rays. Grey and brown lenses are a great option, as well as Revo mirror tints.

For extremely bright sunny conditions, upgrade to Polarised Safety Glasses

The benefits of polarised lenses have been well recognised for many years. Polarised safety lenses offer exceptional safety and UV protection by blocking harmful UV rays, improving colour perception and visual comfort; and increasing contrast and depth. Polarised Safety Glasses are the optimal option for outdoor worksites, sandy conditions, mine sites, oil and gas rigs, beaches and snowy conditions.

Expert Advice

If you require further information, please Contact Us and our Optometrist will be glad to assist you.

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