Skin cancer prevention

Globally rural and agricultural populations are known to have higher risks for skin cancer due to the nature of their work. Research literature indicates Australian farm men have been reported as having a higher standardised mortality rate due to melanoma and other skin cancers and conservatively, at least three times the UV exposure compared to indoor workers.

Skin protective behaviours are paramount to the prevention of skin cancer and despite efforts to improve behaviour, skin protection behaviours in farm men and women – have remained low – reporting limited or nil skin protection at all. (Smit-Kroner & Brumby, 2015)

Whilst skin protective practice in farmers and ag workers indicates protective clothing (such as Slip on a long sleeved shirt and trousers, Slap on a broad brim hat and Slide on sunglasses), is indicated the most promising avenue to improve farmers’ skin protection behaviours. There are many other strategies farmers and ag workers can practice to prevent skin cancer.

  • Be familiar with the ultraviolet (UV) index predicted for the day. UV index measures UV levels on a scale from 0 (Low) to 11+ (Extreme). Sun protection is recommended when UV levels are 3 (Moderate) or higher. It is important to note a number of factors including the time of day, time of year, cloud cover, altitude, how close you are to the equator; scattering and reflection will affect UV levels.
  • Seek shade and avoid working outdoors in the middle of the day if possible when ultraviolet rays are at their highest.
  • Slide on sunglasses, ensuing they are AS/NZS compliant and fitted with side arm, as melanoma can develop in eyes and has poor early detection rates and prognosis.
  • Slop on 50+ sunscreen and remember to reapply during the day. Putting sunscreen on the skin before heading out in to the sun will allow it to dry effectively, generating the unlikelihood of dust sticking.
  • Seek regular skin checks with GP or skin specialist.
  • Ensure you apply a duty of care to protecting any workers from the effects of the sun.

For more information on protecting outdoor workers visit Better Health Channel

Skin cancer is preventable and the majority of skin cancers can be successfully treated, if found early. Be familiar with your skin and look for any changes, suspicious lumps or spots and act on any changes as soon as they develop. Don’t just rely on an annual skin check to detect any suspicious spots as skin spots can change between reviews.

Find out more information about skin cancer prevention visit Cancer Council Australia.

Fast Facts

  • Farmers and agricultural workers have a high risk of developing skin cancer.
  • When the UV index is predicted to be 3 or above, protect yourself from the sun. Use the five combinations of Slip on a long sleeve shirt or trousers, Slop on 50+ sunscreen, Slap on a hat, Slide on sunglasses and Seek shade.
  • Download the free SunSmart app on your mobile to access the UV index throughout the day.
  • Where possible – share tasks so the same person is not always working outdoors.
  • Where possible – leave a task to later in the day or another day when the UV index is not as high
  • Monitor changes in your skin and have regular skin checks to assist with early detection of skin cancers.

References used for this topic

More information:

Safework Australia
Protection of workers from the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight [PDF]

Cancer Council WA
Skin Cancer and outdoor work

Clinical care:

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP)
Early detection of cancers – skin cancer

Research & reviews:

Cancer Council Victoria
Farmers’ and outdoor workers’ beliefs about skin cancer and protection [PDF 257kb]

Preventive Medicine Reports
Farmers sun exposure, skin protection and public health campaigns: An Australian perspective

American Association of Occupational Health Nurses Journal
Preventing Skin Cancer Among a Farming Population