Education, Healthcare

UV-C accidents highlight need for caution

Some Chinese school children with bandaged eyes
In a primary school in Yhang, China, 130 students were exposed to UV-C disinfection lamp for five hours and many suffered burns to their eyes and skin.

A SERIES of accidents involving UV-C lighting has raised concerns in the industry and highlighted the need to proceed with caution, say observers.

The incidents in Asia saw schoolchildren and journalists exposed to potentially harmful UV-C irradiation.

In a primary school in Yhang, China, 130 students were exposed to UV-C disinfection lamp for five hours and many suffered burns to their eyes and skin. 

The cause of the mishap was human error: the onsite electrician mistakenly turned on the lamps in three classrooms following a power failure.

In the Philippines last week, a UV-C robot named Keno mingled with members of the media while energised, resulting in a number of journalists requiring medical treatment. 

The manufacturers, Robotic Activations, was demonstrating Keno’s capabilities to the press in Baguio when the incident took place.

‘We sincerely thought we had exercised enough precautions when the press asked to switch the robot on, but it turns out we didn’t,’ said Camille Anton, the company’s chief of business development.

China has been a pioneer is using UV-C lighting for so-called ‘passive disinfection’, where the lights are illuminated overnight while the spaces are unoccupied.

Many primary schools, secondary schools and kindergartens across the country have UV-C installations. 

However, the roll-out over the last two decades has not been without controversy.

In 2007, a teacher from a school in Zhejiang Province mistakenly turned on the ultraviolet lamp and the fluorescent lamp at the same time, causing eye injuries to 23 teachers and students.

In 2013, 46 secondary schools students in Hebei Province suffered eye burns when, again, the lamps were illuminated accidentally.

In 2016, a childcare worker in Beijing mistakenly turned on the UV-C lights and 22 children were burned.

In 2017, 26 primary school students in Guangzhou were injured. Some students showed symptoms of electro-optic ophthalmia such as conjunctival hyperemia and punctate shedding of the corneal skin, and some students experienced skin burns such as skin redness. .

In 2018, a teacher in a kindergarten in Taiyuan accidentally turned on the ultraviolet light for 20 minutes and more than 30 children suffered burns in their eyes.

‘These incidents highlight the need to proceed to caution,’ says UV-C expert Mark Cunningham, developer of the Air-Lume combined light and UV-C disinfection system.

‘While UV-C is a powerful tool in the fight against coronavirus, we need to build in robust protections and controls to ensure building occupants never inadvertently come into contact with harmful irradiation.’