What is the purpose of this legislation?
The Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations came into force in April 2010, with the primary aim of protecting employees (and any other person who may be similarly affected by a duty holders work related activities), from hazardous sources of artificial optical radiation (AOR), including for example ultraviolet, infrared and laser beams.
Who is responsible for compliance and what needs to be done?
The Regulations require employers to protect the eyes and skin of employees from exposure to hazardous sources of artificial optical radiation (AOR), and where hazardous sources of light are used, employers must put in place control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk of harm to as low as is reasonably practicable.
Hazardous sources of light
AOR includes light emitted from all artificial sources in all its forms such as ultraviolet, infrared and laser beams, but excludes sunlight. It is likely in most workplaces people will be exposed to some form of artificial light, whether from general lighting, equipment or from a work process.
The majority of these light sources (ceiling-mounted lighting used in offices that have diffusers over bulbs or lamps, task lighting including desk lamps and lamps fitted with appropriate glass filters to remove unwanted ultraviolet light, photocopiers, computer or similar display equipment) are safe, and if you only have these sources, or similar, you don’t need to do anything further.
In addition, there are sources of light (desktop projectors, vehicle headlights, low-power laser pointers and spot lights used in the entertainment sector to name just a few examples) that if used inappropriately (placed extremely close to the eyes or skin), have the potential to cause harm but which are perfectly safe under normal conditions of use.
If you have sources that are not known to have caused harm previously, and you have no reasons to suspect they present a risk in the way they are used, you can assume no special control measures are needed.
Examples of hazardous sources of light that present a ‘reasonably foreseeable’ risk of harming the eyes and skin of workers and where control measures are needed are covered in relevant Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance, and whilst not to be considered an exhaustive list include:
- Hot industries: furnaces;
- Printing: UV curing of inks;
- Metal working: welding (both arc and oxy-fuel) and plasma cutting;
- Pharmaceutical and research: UV fluorescence and sterilisation systems;
- Motor vehicle repairs: UV curing of paints and welding; and
- Medical and cosmetic treatments: laser surgery and UV therapies and UV light in tanning equipment, for example.
Where an employer carries out work which could expose employees to levels of AOR that could create a reasonably foreseeable risk of adverse health effects to the eyes or skin; and that employer has not already implemented any measures to either eliminate or, where this is not reasonably practicable, reduce the risk to as low a level as is reasonably practicable, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment must be undertaken.
The purpose of the risk assessment is to identify the measures that need to be taken to meet the requirements of the Regulations, i.e. to put in place control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk of harm to as low as is reasonably practicable .
The Regulations also provide detailed information covering what must be included and considered as part of the risk assessment process, including for example:
- Assessment and if necessary a measurement or calculation of the levels of AOR to which employees are likely to be exposed;
- Relevant standards and recommendations to be followed;
- The level, wavelength and duration of exposure;
- The exposure limit values;
- The effects of exposure on employees or groups of employees whose health is at particular risk from exposure;
- Any possible effects on the health and safety of employees resulting from interactions between AOR and photosensitising chemical substances;
- Any indirect effects of exposure on the health and safety of employees such as temporary blinding, explosion or fire;
- The availability of alternative equipment designed to reduce levels of exposure;
- Appropriate information obtained from health surveillance, including where possible published information;
- Multiple sources of exposure;
- Any Class 3B or 4 laser that is classified in accordance with the relevant standard that is in use by the employer and any AOR source that is capable of presenting the same level of hazard; and
- Information provided by the manufacturers of artificial optical radiation sources and associated work equipment in accordance with the relevant European Union Directives.
The risk assessment must be subject to regular review and be reviewed if is there is reason to suspect it is no longer valid or there has been a significant change in the work to which the assessment relates.
Whilst not to be considered and exhaustive list, control measures that might be considered in managing AOR risks and exposures include:
- Using an alternative, safer light source that can achieve the same or a similar result.
- Using filters, screens, remote viewing, curtains, safety interlocks, clamping of work pieces, dedicated rooms, remote controls and time delays and organisation measures to restrict the potential for access and exposure.
- Providing appropriate information, instruction and training.
- Issue and implement the use of appropriate personal protective equipment, including clothing and eye protection for example.
- Use relevant safety signs.
Whatever measures are used, systems need to be established for dealing with potential over-exposures, for example, referral to a physician or occupational health specialist.
If after introducing control measures, concerns remain about the risks posed to employees, a more detailed risk assessment will be required, with advice sought from a relevant trade association or a specialist consultancy as considered appropriate. Work should be stopped until as an employer you are satisfied that risks have been reduced to a sufficiently low level.
Information and training
If the risk assessment indicates that employees could be exposed to AOR that could cause adverse health effects to the eyes or skin of employees, employees and representatives must be provided with suitable and sufficient information and training relating to the outcome of the risk assessment. The Regulations detail what must be included in such information and training.
If the risk assessment indicates that there is a risk of adverse health effects to the skin of employees as a result of exposure to AOR, the employer must ensure that such employees are placed under suitable health surveillance, with this to be carried out by an appropriate qualified Doctor or occupational health professional. The Regulations include requirements specific to the recording of health surveillance and the use, handling, sharing and retention of such records.