Farmers urged to ‘not lose sight’ of sun exposure risks

Covid-19 may be the dominating concern in workplaces this summer, but farmers and other outdoor workers are being urged to “not lose sight of other hazards in the workplace”.

Through an initiative by Healthy Ireland, the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), farmers are urged to be ‘SunSmart’ this summer.

Farmers, builders and other outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable to developing skin cancer, due to spending long periods of time outdoors.

‘5 S’s of skin protection’

Recent Central Statistic Office (CSO) figures suggest that up to one-in-four skin cancer deaths in Ireland are among workers in the farming, construction and outdoor sectors.

The most common cancer in Ireland is skin cancer, with over 11,000 cases diagnosed annually. However, most forms of skin cancer can be prevented by protecting skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources.

People are being advised to follow the ‘5 S’s of skin protection’:

  • Slip on clothing;
  • Slop on sunscreen;
  • Slap on a wide-brimmed hat;
  • Seek shade – especially if outdoors between 11:00am to 3:00pm;
  • Slide on wraparound sunglasses.

Dr. Triona McCarthy, director of public health at the HSE National Cancer Control Programme, said that while the risks are high, there are measures that outdoor workers can take to help prevent skin cancer.

“We have seen in Australia how simple steps can protect outdoor worker’s skin – slipping on clothing that covers skin, slapping on a wide-brimmed hat and slipping on wraparound sunglasses reduces the skin’s exposure to the sun’s UV rays.

“Use sunscreen on exposed areas and around the middle of the day, plan to work or take breaks in the shade where possible.

“Whether you work in farming, construction, fishery, gardening, postal, defence forces, tourism or any other job outdoors, protect your skin from UV rays to reduce your risk of skin cancer.”

Outdoor workers are exposed to high levels of UV rays even on a cloudy day, especially from April to September.

‘We must not lose sight of other hazards’

Dermot Carey, director of safety and training at the CIF, said that while we may be occupied with Covid-19, we “must not lose sight of other hazards in the workplace”.

“People working outdoors need to be aware of these hazards, the associated risk and the precautionary measures they should take to protect their skin,” he said.

“Whilst Covid-19 remains at the forefront of our thinking about well-being, we must not lose sight of other hazards in the workplace, not least the potential for skin cancer.”