On-farm safety has improved immensely over the years, but not everyone realises the hidden hazard of over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation rays, the Cancer Society of New Zealand says.
People who work outside receive up to 10 times more UV radiation exposure than indoor workers, putting them at high risk of developing skin cancer, the Society said.
"Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Aotearoa New Zealand," Cancer Society Medical Director Dr Kate Gregory said.
"If you are working outside, it is essential that you take steps to protect yourself from UV radiation. It is never too late to start. These actions can make a real difference in reducing the risk of skin cancers."
It was important to embed SunSmart practices from a very young age, as UV damage accumulated over time, Gregory said.
Ted Mason was born in 1936 and spent part of his life farming in South Waikato.
Being sun smart wasn't a big part of his childhood, he said.
"My mother always insisted on me wearing a hat, but that lasted only until I was out of sight.
"At school, there were no covered playgrounds or shade, and I do not remember any warnings about skin cancer."
Mason became more aware of UV harm as an adult and the sun exposure of farming outdoors.
"Awareness of skin cancer was increasing, and some protective lotions became available, but I preferred to wear a hat and protection on my arms."
Mason had a check-up when he was around 60-years-old when worrying spots were found on his skin and removed.
Now, Mason has regular appointments with a dermatologist to monitor his skin and have potentially cancerous moles removed.
As a result, Mason now embraces SunSmart practices, such as sun-protective clothing.
He was grateful to his dermatologist for the "excellent advice" around sun protection.
Otago farmer Jeremy Wales agreed with Mason's approach.
Wales, from Baldwin Farm in the Knobbie Range, has been farming for 24 years.
Generally a man of few words, Wales still wanted to spread the message of taking care while working outdoors
"The sun is hard and hot in Central, and you don't want to get done over by skin cancer.
"Cover-up, wear a hat, and put your sunnies on."
Gregory said most skin cancers could be treated successfully if caught early.
She stressed the importance of regularly checking skin - particularly people spending large amounts of time outdoors.
"Remember that you cannot see or feel UV radiation – it can be harmful even on a cool or cloudy day.
The Cancer Society recommended farmers use sun protection all day, because UV damage accumulated over time, Gregory said.
"Be particularly careful from the beginning of September to April between the hours of 10 am-4 pm when UV levels are highest."
All farmers had to be careful in the sun but farmers in more northern parts of the country experienced higher UV radiation for longer, she said.
Additionally, items that protect from UV radiation, such as clothing, sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses were tax-deductible for self-employed farmers.
How to stay safe in the sun
Wear items that can protect you while outdoors
Depending on the requirements, this could include:
• A wide-brimmed hat or helmet with a peak and neck guard (legionnaire's flap).
• A long-sleeved, collared shirt, ideally in a tight-weaved, dark fabric - wear the collar upturned to protect the neck - a common place for skin cancers.
• Close-fitting, wrap-around sunglasses that meet safety and sun protection
standards (check the label).
• A hat with a brim can make a huge difference in reducing sun exposure to the skin and eyes, a known risk factor for cataracts.
Slip into shade
• If possible, move tasks where there is shade or inside.
• If not, try to schedule outside tasks when UV radiation levels are lower, such as early morning or late afternoon.
• Check UV levels through the UVNZ app or the NIWA website.
• A good rule of thumb is - the shorter your shadow, the higher the UV radiation.
Take lunch in the shade
• Eat lunch and take breaks under trees or other shaded areas where possible. This is one of the most effective ways to reduce overall UVR exposure.
• This is also an opportunity to re-apply sunscreen, as one hour on either side of solar noon (usually around 1 pm) is when UVR is at its strongest.
• Apply a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF30.
• Ensure sunscreen is within its expiry date and not stored anywhere too hot, like a ute glovebox.
• Stick it in a cooler bag with an ice pack and drink bottle.
• Make sure to apply sunscreen by 8 am and apply thickly to all exposed skin.
Skin checks for early detection of skin cancers
• Get to know your skin; being aware of any changes is key to finding skin cancer early.
• Get your skin checked by a doctor. It could save your life.