Updated: Mar 15
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been growing demand for and availability of Ultraviolet-C (UVC) disinfection devices. Exposure to UVC radiation due to inappropriate use or unsafe sterilisers can cause eye or skin injuries. Examples of eye and skin injuries include UVC damage to the cornea, with burning sensations and sensitivity to light, as well as burns resulting in redness and peeling of the skin.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) advises households not to use disinfection sterilisers based on UVC radiation technology. Many such sterilisers marketed for home use lack safety features that protect users from unintended or accidental exposure to UV radiation. To prevent accidental exposure and health risks, members of the public are advised not to purchase any UVC steriliser products, that have no safety features. NEA advises that UVC-based disinfection should only be applied in an industrial/commercial setting with appropriate safety features and safe use practices.
Members of the public purchasing UVC sterilisers for disinfection purposes should choose only UVC sterilisers where the UVC sources are properly contained with safety engineering features that prevents users from being exposed to the UVC radiation. Examples of such safety engineering features are:
a) For portable UVC lamps/desk lamps, safety features, such as motion sensors, would automatically switch off the UVC source when a person/animal approaches it. Such safety features prevents the user and others in the vicinity from any accidental exposure to UVC radiation.
b) For handheld UVC sterilisers/portable UVC wands, safety features, such as gravity sensors, would automatically switch off the UVC source when the device faces upward. Such safety features prevents the user’s eyes from being exposed to UVC radiation. When using such devices, the UVC light should not be directed at user’s skin or eyes.
c) For UVC bulbs/tube lamps, safety features, such as motion sensors, would automatically switch off the UVC source when a person/animal approaches it.
d) For UVC disinfection boxes, there should be safety features to switch off the UVC light when the disinfection box is open.
NEA advises users to avoid direct skin exposure to UVC radiation and avoid looking directly into a UVC light source. If a UVC steriliser has been purchased and it does not contain any safety engineering features mentioned above, NEA advises users to stop using it immediately, especially if the product is intended for use on the skin.
NEA has been working with major retailers to actively remove listings of UVC sterilisers that are unsafe and pose risk of exposure to UVC radiation. All physical stores and online sales platforms have been advised not to sell UVC steriliser products that are unsafe for consumers.
To date, approximately 8,000 listings of unsafe UVC sterilisers have been removed from online sales platforms. While NEA has made every effort to work with major online sales platform operators in this regard, given the vast number of retailers that may advertise on online sales platforms from time to time, the public is advised to exercise discretion and vigilance when purchasing UVC sterilisers.
Online sales platform operators such as Amazon, Carousell, Ezbuy.sg, Qoo10.sg and Shopee have exercised diligence in actively removing unsafe UVC sterilisers identified from their platforms. NEA advises other online sales platform operators to follow suit in actively removing listings of unsafe UVC sterilisers.
For more information on NEA’s guidelines on UVC sterilisers, please refer to this link. For other alternative disinfection methods for the home setting, please refer to NEA’s list of active ingredients and household disinfectant and cleaning products for disinfection of the COVID-19 virus here.
Is UVC safe?
UVC radiation has wavelengths of 100nm - 280nm and is in the spectrum of the sun’s radiation that we are rarely exposed to, as the ozone layer in the stratosphere prevents UVC rays from reaching the surface of the earth.
UVC poses potential health risks such as eye injury (e.g. irritation and inflammation of cornea) and skin injury (e.g. erythema). Chronic exposure to UV radiation can also accelerate the skin aging process and increase the risk of skin cancer. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised that UV sterilisers should not be used to disinfect the hands or any areas of the skin.1
UV products are to be kept out of reach of children.
World Health Organisation (WHO), Novel Coronavirus 2019: Advice for the public-Mythbusters, 27 April 2020
[Source: NEA - Advisory on the Use of UVC Sterilisers in the Home]