Employers need to do more to protect car guards from UV radiation

Issued by North West University
North-West, Mar 1, 2019

A student working towards her master's degree in Occupational Hygiene at the North-West University (NWU) campus in Potchefstroom recently conducted a unique study in which disturbing results were obtained regarding car guards' exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Mahlako Nkogatse's research was conducted under the supervision of Cynthia Ramotsehoa and Professor Fritz Eloff, both experts in occupational hygiene at the NWU, as well as under Dr Caradee Wright of the South African Medical Research Council. Her findings were recently published in a scientific journal.

Nkogatse's research showed that businesses that employ car guards do not do nearly enough to empower their employees with knowledge and information about the hazards of UV rays emitted by the sun. In fact, about 83% of the car guards in the study indicated that they had received no safety training regarding the hazards of exposure to the sun.

"The skin is the biggest organ of the body, and the chances of people who work in the South African sun contracting skin cancer, are very high," said Nkogatse, "especially since there is an enormous lack of knowledge about the prevention and treatment of this disease among the general public. Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed locally in men and women. In addition to skin cancer, excessive exposure to UV rays promotes the skin's ageing and causes various eye problems."

She said the high levels of UV rays from the sun, particularly in our country, pose a great risk of excessive radiation to car guards, especially during the summer months. "My research showed that about 81% of all car guards wear wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts as part of their uniforms, but they do not all know the importance of putting on sunscreen. Although the uniforms provide some protection, these uniforms do not necessarily protect them against excessive exposure to UV rays."

During her study, Nkogatse used an electronic UV dosage meter to determine the amount of sun exposure that the car guards' bodies receive. These meters were attached to their bodies. Results showed that there was excessive UV radiation, especially to the individuals' foreheads, cheeks, noses, necks and hands. The extent of this UV radiation is greater than the international job-related exposure limit.

"Unfortunately, the car guards' activities generally take place in large parking areas where there are no trees or other shelters that provide shade. They are exposed to the elements. It is also a pity that SA does not have the necessary legislation in place to regulate, control or compensate for exposure to UV radiation," said Nkogatse.

"In Germany, for example, skin cancer as a result of UV radiation is a compensable occupational sickness, which means that the individual concerned can be compensated. South African labour legislation does stipulate that an employer must create and maintain, as far as possible, a safe environment free from health risks for employees. Workers in the informal sector, like car guards in this case, are not necessarily protected by the abovementioned legislation, and are responsible for their own health.

"Car guards run a great risk of contracting various health problems. In my opinion, employers and the management of shopping centres must do more to protect these individuals against the sun's relentless rays and the accompanying health risks that they pose," says Nkogatse.