Sun safety at work on the farm

Over 264,000 Canadian farmers spend most of their workday in the sun. This means that Canadian agricultural workers are in the highest risk category for sun exposure, according to CAREX Canada, which generates evidence-based carcinogen surveillance. Sun exposure increases your risk of heat stress, skin cancer, and eye diseases. The good thing is that these conditions are preventable!

Sun Awareness Week from June 6 to 12 is about raising awareness of sun safety at work and in your free time. Addressing the sun as a workplace hazard for both heat and ultraviolet (UV) radiation is important to keep outdoor workers safe. Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada, and heat stress is a common, sometimes deadly, issue for outdoor workers.

Sun Safety at Work Canada is a national project enhancing sun safety for outdoor workers. Just like any other workplace hazard, Sun Safety at Work Canada recommends that workplaces include a sun safety program in their occupational health and safety management system or program. For a complete sun safety program, we have developed a Model Sun Safety Program based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act model of improvement.

On the farm, it’s simply not possible eliminate exposure to the sun. Instead, consider engineering controls such as adding shade structures to equipment like tractors and combines, using air conditioning in rest areas and vehicles, and installing UV protective films to windows. Look for a local service provider who installs vehicle window tinting — you might need to find a company who comes to your farm to apply the UV protective films. It may be possible for farms to conduct regular risk assessments for heat and UV, schedule work to minimize sun exposure, post and talk about the daily UV index and humidex, and run training sessions on sun safety.

Farmers should also wear personal protective equipment such as loose clothing and breathable long sleeves and pants, wide brimmed hats, UV protective eyewear, and sunscreen.

To protect yourself from UV from the sun:

  1. Cover up. Wear loose clothing, long sleeves and pants.
  2. Protect your eyes. Use UV protective eyewear.
  3. Cover your head, neck and ears. Wear a wide brimmed hat or hard hat with a brim and use a neck flap.
  4. Take your breaks in the shade. Get out of the sun when you can, especially between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when UV is the strongest.
  5. Use sunscreen and lip balm. Use at least an SPF 30 broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply.
  6. Be skin safe. Report changes in skin spots and moles to your doctor as soon as possible.

To protect yourself from heat from the sun:

  1. Know the signs and symptoms of heat stress.
  2. Watch out for symptoms 
in yourself and others.
  3. Wear sunscreen, a hat, and lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.
  4. Drink water often, and avoid drinks with alcohol and caffeine.
  5. Take breaks in the shade and more often on hot days.
  6. Know how your workplace deals with heat stress.

To enhance sun safety in your farm, visit occupationalcancer.ca/sunsafetyatwork for examples of resources that are available now. The project website with all resources and step-by-step instructions for implementing sun safety will launch in summer 2016. Sun Safety at Work Canada is funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and Health Canada.

Canadian Agricultural Safety Association and Sun Safety at Work Canada


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