Too Hot To Harvest?

With temperatures already in the mid to high 30s, this is a gentle reminder to take care in the heat.

Working in agriculture means you spend a lot of time outside; and means you receive around 5-10 times the yearly sun exposure compared to people who work indoors. Whilst, Imperial College London research for the British Journal of Cancer reported that construction workers have the highest number of fatalities due to sun exposure, working in agriculture is second highest and accounts for 23% of these deaths.

That’s around one farm worker every month dying from skin cancer due to sun exposure.

So over the next few days when you’re working outdoors especially between 11am and 3pm when UV rays are at their highest, please; 

  • Keep a top on when working.
  • Wear a hat with a brim or a flap that covers the ears and the back of the neck.
  • Stay in the shade whenever possible, during your breaks and especially at lunch time.
  • Use a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF30 on any exposed skin.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Little and often is the best approach, do not drink alcohol.
  • Take sufficient breaks and monitor for signs of fatigue, stress and poor mental health
  • Check skin regularly for unusual moles or spots. See a doctor if you find anything that is changing in shape, size or colour, itching or bleeding.

Another area of immediate and grave concern in the current heatwave is the risk of fire – especially for combine harvesters.

Dust, hot moving parts, electrical wiring and a tank full of diesel provide all the ingredients for a major fire.

Combine fires saw a 35% increase last year, according to NFU Mutual. This puts lives at risk, can spread into crops and threaten surrounding buildings. In hot weather, combine fires could spread even more violently, causing enormous damage to crops and disrupting the farm when farmers can least afford to stop. This year so far, NFU Mutual have seen well over 400 fires involving farm machinery – more than 2 a day – at a total cost of over £15m.

An additional concern is the safety risk to livestock as the sun blazes. We know that our farmers are renowned for their high standards of animal welfare, however, a few extra degrees, over a relatively short period of time, can mean animals suffer the effects of heat stress – which can be fatal.

Heat stress can vary between different livestock:

  • Pigs are affected at lower temperatures and are prone to sun burn. In fact pink/white skin has a high risk of sun burn across all species.
  • Dark coloured animals are more susceptible because they absorb more solar radiation than light coloured animals.
  • Sheep can also become burnt if they have recently been shorn.
  • Milking cows are more susceptible than dry cows due to the extra heat generated for lactation.
  • Native British breeds are less tolerant of higher temperatures compared to more tropical breeds. 

To prevent heat stress in livestock:

  • Improve ventilation in buildings– replace doors with gates, install fans, open side inlets and roof ridges, cut away vegetation around buildings.
  • Water supply– animals need a continuous access to plenty of fresh water.
  • Feed times– feed out when the temperature is lower (early morning/late afternoon)
  • Provide shade– animals out at grass will appreciate trees or shelters. There must be enough shelter provided so all animals can access it at one time to prevent crowding
  • Milking management– allow cows to walk at their own speed to the parlour, without rushing. Reduce the time spent in holding yards, and minimise handling stress.
  • Shearing sheep and alpacas – animals without a fleece can be sprayed with cool water too, but this should be avoided in fleeced animals as it prevents the airflow through the wool to the skin.

When working with combines…

  • Ensure planned preventative maintenance is up to date and in accordance with manufacturers’’ service schedules before using any machinery
  • Fit a suppression system that meets P-mark status to contain, extinguish and prevent fire
  • Regularly clean out dust and chaff from hot spots and check the machine over when you finish use for the day
  • Use a mobile compressor to regularly blow away debris from the machine, but only do so if the exit pressure is reduced (as a guide 30psi/2.1 bar is effective at cleaning).
  • Wear eye and respiratory protective gear to protect from dust and never point an airline at a person to remove dust from clothing, as there is a risk of injecting air into the skin and causing bubbles in the blood stream.
  • Switch off engines and ensure moving parts have stopped before clearing blockages or carrying out maintenance
  • Always stop to investigate hot-running engines or bearings
  • Have a plan in place in the event of fire including a system for keeping in contact with lone workers and anyone working or living on farm
  • Keep mobile phones on you at all times – it’s no use to you if it’s left in a tractor or pickup cab
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on the combine – and ensure it is regularly maintained
  • Keep a bowser filled with water on hand, and be prepared to create a fire break in the event of a crop fire
  • Use the What3Words App to help emergency services can find your location easily
  • Remind staff to keep well-hydrated, take sufficient rest breaks and monitor for fatigue, stress and mental ill health symptoms.

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

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