Rotorua farmers are facing a shortage of appropriate hats and never wear sunscreen, putting them at heightened risk of skin cancer, a local Federated Farmers spokesman warns.
Neil Heather said farmers were aware of the importance of being sun smart but this was not always possible without the right headwear. "Farmers really need their ears and neck covered and I have dozens of hats but none of them [provide adequate protection]."
Mr Heather said he had approached local clothing outlets that supplied caps to voice his concerns in a bid to keep farmers safe.
His comments follow an Otago University survey of 1000 workers across nine outdoor industry groups which found that fewer than a third of employees wore sunscreen or a protective hat.
Out of the nine occupational groups surveyed, forestry, horticulture, construction and farming had the lowest average protection scores.
Federated Farmers national president Bruce Wills said those farmers who failed to protect themselves from the sun were paying the price with skin cancer.
"I'm now having melanoma spots cut out as are other farmers I know."
He said farmers were an older generation who were never told of the sun's dangers until it was too late.
"It was something we just didn't speak about growing up - no one wore sunblock and there was none of this slip, slop, slap and wrap.
"It can be hard to break old habits," Mr Wills said.
The study's lead author Associate Professor Tony Reeder said being sun smart was a basic health and safety issue.
"New Zealand really needs to do better in this regard," he said.
The research proposes that workplaces would need to lead the way in providing appropriate protective gear and promoting sun protection.
But, improvements were unlikely to be achieved from educational strategies alone, Dr Reeder said.
Personal protection was based on practices such as wearing hats, clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen. Hat wearing was the most commonly reported practice, but only one third of those hats were fully protective.
The two least commonly reported practices were moveable shade structures and limiting sun exposure between 10am and 4pm. Despite the low scores, Dr Reeder said many employees would be happy to protect themselves if their workplaces provided appropriate equipment and promoted sun protection.
Skin cancer accounts for 80 per cent of cancers registered in New Zealand each year. Around 2000 of those are melanoma - one of the world's highest rates.
The Cancer Society which has created a sun-smart guide for employers, recommends workplaces create programmes that address the risks for individuals who are working outdoors, as well as implementing control measures if workers are affected by the ultra violet rays.
The findings have been forwarded to the NZ Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health & Safety in a bid to develop a sunsmart workplace culture.
Tips to stay sun smart
Reduce your exposure
Wear sun protective clothing
Wear a hat that protects your neck, ears, head and face
Wear sunscreen on all exposed skin
Wear close-fitting sunglasses that wrap around