Farming and Sun Health – Top Tips

For at least 30 years there has been fairly consistent communication of public health announcements and warnings about the dangers of over-exposure to the sun.

The dangers come from the very real physical issues associated with immediate over-exposure (i.e. the old term ‘sunstroke’) and the more insidious long-term cumulative effects of over-exposure that leads to skin damage and perhaps eventually cancer.

Although many sectors of the population are getting the message and changing behaviours, there’s some suggestion that agricultural workers might not be. That’s because being out all day over years may have toughened their skin leading to the impression that they’re somehow ‘immune’.

Sadly, that’s not the case so if you work out in the open regularly as a farmer or other agricultural worker, think about adopting the following behaviours.

  1. Use a broad-brimmed hat. They’re not old-fashioned in terms of function and caps don’t keep the sun off the back of your neck and shoulder tops – two areas that are very prone to cancer.
  2. Avoid working bare-chested in the full sun for anything other than short periods.
  3. If you’re using machinery, try to make sure you have some sort of canopy in place providing shade. Many agricultural tractors now have cabs or sun shade canopies in place as part of their roll safety framework anyway.
  4. Keep plenty of water on or near you when out working in hot weather. Drink it regularly to keep your hydration up. Avoid alcohol and coffee as they can be de-hydrating.
  5. Over-exposure to bright sunlight can also affect your eyesight over time and create headaches as well. Therefore, wear sunglasses when the sun is bright.
  6. Use a sun barrier cream. Surprisingly, some farmers still consider this to be a bit ‘soft’, which is plainly crazy. Such creams are now very efficient and block a considerable proportion of the harmful UV which is damaging the cells in and under your skin. Make sure you use a high SPF and top-it up regularly in line with the product’s recommendations.
  7. Take regular breaks. Nobody should work in the open and full heat of the hot sun for more than perhaps a few minutes at a time. If you have to, seek shade fairly frequently and allow your skin and body to recover a little. In fact, working in the full sun at the hottest part of the day is best avoided if at all possible.
  8. Get a partner or medical professional to periodically inspect your back (the parts of your body you’ll struggle to see yourself) for signs of abnormalities and if in any doubt, get them checked by a doctor. Some skin cancers are very prone to starting unnoticed on the back of the neck or the back, where they can be hard to spot – particularly if they’re otherwise symptomless.

These are all sound tips.

Just a few minutes thought and a little extra care of your body might help you avoid some of the problems associated with working in the heat and help you to reduce the chances of permanently and perhaps seriously damaging your skin.