‘Farmers must wear sunscreen – even on cloudy days’

The sunny bank holiday weekend brought the importance of wearing sunscreen into focus with the Irish Cancer Society highlighting that farmers must be vigilant – “even on cloudy days”.

“Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland. Most summer days, even cloudy ones, have high enough UV [ultraviolet radiation] levels to damage your skin,” said Caroline Krieger, communications officer for programmes and advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society.

Almost one in four (23%) of skin cancer deaths in Ireland are from the construction, outdoor and farming industry, so Irish farmers need to be extra vigilant during the summer months.

The latest UK research has found that a week spent working in the sun can lead to up to one death; plus an estimated five cases of Melanoma (skin cancer).

The report, published in the British Journal of Cancer, reports that construction workers diagnosed with Melanoma had the highest number of deaths at four in 10; followed by agriculture workers at more than two in 10.

Kevin O’Hagan, cancer prevention manager with the Irish Cancer Society, said that figures from the CSO showed that in 2014, we had around one death every week in Ireland that is related to sun exposure at work. “Coupled with the research from the UK, it shows just how extensive, and unfortunately fatal, sun damage can be for outdoor workers.

“It’s vital that we pay heed to this in Ireland this summer. You don’t have to be in a Mediterranean country for the sun to do damage to your skin and Irish people need to wise up to that.

It would be really useful if workplaces whose employees work predominately outdoors did a risk assessment and put in place policy in relation to protection from sun exposure.

The Irish Cancer Society has published a leaflet called ‘Be Smart, Protect Your Skin on the Farm’ in association with the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), urging farmers to use sunscreen and take other precautions.

‘Get to know your skin’

It warns farmers to look out for the following: a new growth or sore that doesn’t heal in a few weeks; a spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab or bleed; and constant skin ulcers that aren’t explained by other causes.

The message is to get to know your skin and what is normal for you and to check it once a month for change. The Irish Cancer Society advises watching out for a new or changing mole and changes in colour, shape or size.

It also points out that some chemicals used on farms – such as creosote – can make skin more sensitive to sun burn – which can increase your risk of skin cancer.

Farmers are encouraged to wear the following: shirts with collars and long sleeves; hats; and wraparound sunglasses. They are also advised to lather on sunscreen and seek shade where possible – especially between 11:00am and 3:00pm

The leaflet also warns that care should be taken to protect children’s sensitive skin from damage from the sun’s UV rays.

Anyone noticing a change or anything unusual with their skin, is urged to contact their GP or to call the national cancer helpline, freephone 1800 200 700, without delay.