Antarctic sun study leads to tighter regulation

A crane on the Aurora Australia uploads cargo from the ice onto the ship
Uploading cargo onto the Aurora Australis (Photo: Felicity Jenkins)
Workers on the Aurora Australis use a crane to unload cargo as part of resupply operations at Davis station

16 November 2009

A new study which shows many Antarctic workers exceed recommended levels of solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure has led to a change in the Australian Antarctic Division's sun exposure policy this summer.

The collaborative study, by the Australian Antarctic Division and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, found 80 percent of subjects received UVR exposure in excess of occupational exposure limits, while 31 percent received more than five times the limit.

The research, undertaken during the summer of 2004-05 and 2006-07, measured sun exposure on workers unloading vessels at Australia's three Antarctic stations.

The subjects, including barge operators, ship personnel and scientists, wore UVR-sensitive badges on their chests for the duration of the working day.

The Antarctic Division's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jeff Ayton, said despite sun protection being provided to workers 70% of them reported feeling sunburnt.

"It's not only the short-term health effects like sunburn we need to worry about, we also need to think about the long term effects of UVR – such as increased risk of damage to the skin and eyes," Dr Ayton said.

The study found that the extended duration of sunlight in polar regions, ozone hole and reflection off the ice and water contributed to the high levels of UVR exposure in expeditioners.

Occupational Health and Safety Manager, Sandra Hodgson, said the study contributed to a review of the Division's current sun exposure policy.

"All expeditioners have been provided with personal protective equipment, such as hats, glasses and sunscreen, for years," Ms Hodgson said.

"The research findings help us ensure we provide the most appropriate information and equipment to protect the health and safety of those living and working at our stations," she said.

It's hoped the findings will lead to a review of OHS sun exposure regulations in other outdoor occupations.