A ‘farmer’s tan’ may be a joke to some…

…but sun damage is no laughing matter. Agriculture is an industry where many workers don’t bother their doctor unless they are seriously ill so levels of ill-health are unclear. However, according to HSE, in 2020, 13,000 farm workers suffered from work-related ill health.

Musculoskeletal injury (back pain, sprains or strains) is over three times the rate for all industries, the number of people affected by asthma is twice the national average and around 20,000 people are affected by zoonoses (which are diseases passed from animals to humans) each year.

One area that doesn’t seem to be getting the same attention is sun damage.

Despite the well-established (and continuously growing) body of evidence that links sun exposure and skin cancer, there are many ‘hardy’ farmers out there that think that wearing suncream is a ‘bit soft’. Staying out of the sun might be the best way to avoid sun damage, but, for an industry that is fundamentally an outdoor occupation, this is just impossible.

We all know that too much intensive heat isn’t good for anyone, especially one working long hours in direct sunlight and can lead to sunburn, heat stroke or dehydration …

At the Farm Safety Foundation, we hate to be the fun sponges but there is enough evidence to show that overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) exposure could have serious and potentially deadly consequences so, on the last day of Farm Safety Week we are looking at the “Health” in Health & Safety and asking you to be Sun Smart.

In this blog we’re outlining things you should know about UV exposure, including some ways you can measure it to protect your skin from burns and cancer.

What is UV exposure?
UV radiation is the main preventable cause of skin cancer – both melanoma skin cancer (the most serious type) and non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSC). The sun is the principal source of natural UV radiation with an estimated 86% of melanoma skin cancers in the UK (around 13,600 cases) every year linked to too much exposure to sunlight or sunbed use.

In a survey by the Teenage Cancer Trust, 60% of young people regularly don’t use any kind of sun lotion in a bid to boost their skin’s glow. The research also revealed that 90% have been sunburnt at least once, with a third of 13 – 24 year-olds claiming they have already been burnt more than five times!

And the main reasons given for getting burnt? Forgetting to put suncream on or being too lazy to even bother…

What are the dangers of UV exposure?
There are three types of UV radiation: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

The Earth’s atmosphere absorbs UVC, so we only need to worry about UVA and UVB
UVB rays only make up about 5% of the rays that reach our skin but are the primary cause of sunburn. UVB exposure also speeds up skin aging, suppresses some immune functions and contributes to the development of skin cancer.

UVA rays, though less intense than UVB rays, are 30 – 50 times more prevalent than UVB rays. Prolonged and cumulative UVA exposure damages the collagen fibres in your skin, which contributes to signs of aging: wrinkles, age spots and loss of elasticity.
Oh, and skin cancer, too.

It’s not just skin cancer, though. Excessive UV exposure is also a risk factor for cataracts and other eye complications, including corneal sunburn and damage to the retina, so it makes sense to protect your eyes from UV exposure by wearing UV-blocking sunglasses and hats.

Before you head out to work outdoors without protection, consider the risks…
• Skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma
• Sunburn and blisters
• Heat rash
• Premature skin aging, wrinkles, sunspots etc.
• Retina damage
• Corneal sunburn and inflammation
• Formation of cataracts
• Weakened immune system

Who is most at risk?
You should take particular care if you have:
• fair or freckled skin that does not tan, goes red, or burns before it tans;
• red or fair hair and light coloured eyes;
• a large number of moles.

How can I measure my UV exposure?
One of the easiest ways to monitor sun exposure is looking at the daily UV index, on your smart phone Weather app.

The UV scale goes from 0 – 11+ and can give you an idea of how careful you should be about sun exposure each day. The index scores are as follows:
• 1-2: Low
• 3-5: Moderate
• 6-7: High
• 8-9: Very High
• 10-11: Extreme
As you might suspect, the higher the index, the more sun protection you need.

There are also some UV-tracking devices that can measure your exposure.

UV Index Now – UVI Mate. This free App allows you to track the UV index around the world on your watch or phone, stay sunburn free and have a safe time outdoors with accurate 6 hour UV Forecast, UV alarms, Sun lotion SPF recommendations based on your skin type and more!

 • My Skin Track UV from La Roche-Posay app is also free and tracks UV, pollution, pollen and humidity. uses a light emitting diode (LED) to capture and detect UV light, and it transfers that information to an app on your phone. Based on your UV exposure and other environmental factors, such as altitude, My Skin Track warns you when you should be concerned about your exposure.

• QSun – Vitamin D and UV Tracker – This free app lets you know when its time to seek sun protection and integrates with Apple Health app to sync your sun-safe activity data

• Shade is a wearable, waterproof Bluetooth-connected device that is linked to mobile apps for both iOS and Android and claims to be the first and most accurate clinical-grade UV-detection device. According to their research, it appears to be more accurate than many devices because it measures both UVA and UVB rays, whereas others measure UVA only. www.wearshade.com

• If you’re looking for something a little simpler, you can try wearable stickers with UV-sensitive ink, such as those from Soltan Kids at Boots. The stickers are clear when you are protected and purple when you aren’t. Simple! The stickers change colour as your sun cream wears off, One sticker will last all day wet or dry and a pack of 8 stickers costs £5

If you want to learn more, you can find information at:
Cancer Research UK
Keep your top on  HSE – Health risks from working in the sun
Outdoor workers and sun exposure
IOSH ‘No Time to Lose’ campaign

stephanie_berkeley_zl4u2oa9A ‘farmer’s tan’ may be a joke to some…

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