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Why Should Oil & Gas Workers be Concerned about UV Radiation?

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he facts are simple, the science is proven, ultraviolet (UV) light is harmful to our eyes. That includes the UV light that comes from natural sunlight, meaning anyone who spends a lot of time outside is at risk. The problem is especially true for those who work outside for long hours and even more acute for workplaces that are completely exposed to the elements. Working on offshore oil and gas platforms is among the highest risk environments but there are solutions that can protect eyes from UV light and other dangers.

Longer exposure to UV light, especially to the eyes, begins to have negative effects.

Short-Term Effects 

Photokeratitis - Often called snow blindness by skiers or welder’s blindness by welders, this is essentially the eye getting sunburnt. Photokeratitis occurs with overexposure to UVB rays that cause inflammation of the cornea. Symptoms include temporary pain, red eyes, a gritty feeling, extreme light sensitivity and vision loss. These symptoms usually occur within eight to 24 hours of exposure.

Photoconjunctivitis - This occurs from overexposure to UV light and causes inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the membrane lining eyelids and eye sockets. While photoconjunctivitis does not usually affect vision it can be very painful. Symptoms can last several days.

These short-term effects of overexposure to UV light generally disappear once the eyes heal themselves, which may be hours or days. However, research suggests that the cumulative effects of exposure to UV radiation can cause much more serious and irreversible conditions.

Long-Term Effects

Macular Degeneration - Cumulative exposure to UV light over the course of decades can cause damage to the retina, known as macular degeneration. This can cause loss of central vision and the ability to see fine details.

Cataracts - With age, most people will experience cataracts to some degree, but research has shown that cataracts are accelerated through overexposure to UVB radiation. Cataracts occur as proteins in the eye's lens, they unravel, tangle and accumulate pigments which cloud the lens and eventually lead to blindness. 

Skin Cancer - Overexposure to UV light has been linked to the occurrence of skin cancer, this also includes the skin in and around eyelids. Melanoma is the most common form of eye cancer, where extreme cases may require the surgical removal of the eyeball.

Exposure in the Workplace


Certain conditions further elevate the risk of UV light exposure. The surface of the water reflects UV light meaning harmful UV rays come directly from sunlight above but also from the surface of nearby water. This is especially problematic for workers on offshore oil and gas platforms who work primarily outdoors and are surrounded by miles of open sea. For these workers, UV radiation is approaching from almost every angle, greatly increasing UV exposure and its harmful effects.

Other risks for Oil workers

Oil and gas workers who spend time on offshore platforms are usually exposed to UV light, however, besides UV exposure, the oil and gas industry represents other dangers to the eye that require eye and face protection.

  • Drilling fluids. These fluids also called drilling mud, have been used since the 1980s while drilling for oil and natural gas as it helps increase efficiency and optimize drilling speed. Exposure to these fluids may irritate the skin and cause serious damage to the eye.
  • Mercury. This toxic element often occurs in the oil and gas industry. Even if its levels differ within reservoirs and geographical areas, it remains a real danger to the eye as it may appear in a vaporous or liquid state. Mercury vapour exposure affects the nervous system, it’s direct exposure may burn the eye.
  • Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S).  It is a common gas found on oil and gas work-sites. This gas has no color, however, it can be easily detected due to its pungent smell, similar to rotten eggs. It may irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, cause nausea, disorientation and headaches.
  • Dust and other particles. Blowing debris can scratch your cornea which can cause pain and decrease your vision.

Protecting Yourself from UV Radiation

Everyone, regardless of age, location or activity, should make an effort to avoid excessive exposure to sunlight and other forms of UV radiation. When work or lifestyles demand long hours outdoors, preventative measures should be taken to protect sensitive areas of the body. For the skin, appropriate clothing can act as an effective defense and sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays are important for exposed parts of the body. For the eyes, hats and sunglasses can provide defense in some environments. However, for harsh UV environments, such as those found in the oil and gas industry, high-quality professional eyewear is crucial.

Those responsible for safety in these harsh UV environments must ensure that all workers have access to and use the appropriate eyewear for their specific environment. Polarised glasses that seal well around the eye are essential in offshore environments to block the glare from the abundance of reflective surfaces. Leading professional eyewear providers offer high-quality polarised glasses for these harsh UV environments, in addition to a range of smoked and flashed lenses for other UV light rich workplaces.

Working for Your Eyes

Whatever your profession, you should analyze the potentially harmful effects of UV light in your workplace. While there is no way to completely avoid UV light reaching your eyes, advances in eyewear mean there are now practical, fashionable and effective means of protecting your eyes in every environment. You cannot continue to risk your fragile eyes waiting for safety standards and policies to catch up to the science.  Workers on offshore oil platforms and similar workplaces must raise the issue with employers or actively protect themselves.

Bollé Safety has the expertise to assist your workers in the selection of Glasses/Sealed Eyewear/Goggles along with onsite eyewear training.
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