KFB Insight: Be wise to the ways of the rays

By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau
June 10, 2015

The next time you take time out of the sun, dust off one of those old family photo albums. You know the ones that date back to the ’30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and even early ‘60s. If your family farmed you’ll see photos of your relatives attired in wide-brimmed hats.

Look at their shirts. You’ll see they wore loose-fitting, long-sleeved, light-colored garments.

Now fast forward to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s; clothing styles have changed. You don’t see too many long-sleeved shirts any longer. Broad-brimmed hats have been replaced with ball caps proclaiming seed, feed, tractors and just about any company logo under the sun.

Today’s farmer no longer wears the clothing of yesteryear – clothing that afforded protection from the sun’s ultra-violet rays. Instead he/she wears a smaller, softer, snug fitting cap that will not blow off and bump into machinery. Farmers like their hats cheap or free and they want them colorful.

This ball cap is comfortable and affordable, but it does not protect the temples, the tender, delicate ear tips and the back of the neck. The low-profile cap doesn’t extend far enough to guard against the sun.

Numerous studies have been tracking skin cancer and the sun’s harmful impact on farmers and other segments of our society since the early ‘80s.

An estimated 73,870 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States in 2015, says Holly Higgins safety director forKansas Farm Bureau.An estimated 9,940 people will die of melanoma in 2015. Melanoma accounts for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.

Ultra violet rays are the leading carcinogenic on the farm today, Higgins notes. But with early diagnosis, treatment is possible. The safety director encourages farmers to insist on inspection for skin cancer as part of their regular physical each year.

“You just can’t have sun without skin cancer, unless you take protective measures,” Higgins warns. “Dermatologists recommend that anyone working or playing in the sunshine protect their skin completely by wearing clothing and a wide-brimmed hat.”

Others, including the American Cancer Society say there is a skin-cancer epidemic in this country. The number of cases is rising as fast as or faster than any other tumor being charted today.

A major reason skin cancer may be on the rise is more leisure time and more exposure to the sun. Today, more people spend longer time in the sun and wear less clothing.

While it may be too late for some older farmers and ranchers, education for teens and young farmers on skin cancer may be beneficial later in life.

While working in the sun is something that is unavoidable for some occupations, but there are ways to reduce your exposure to harmful UVA and UVB rays.

“Avoid direct exposure to sunlight – especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.,” Higgins says. “Wide-brimmed hats, protective clothing and sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 all work together to safeguard your skin.” 

Several farm supply stores and catalogs offer specialized clothing and headwear made with sun protective fabrics to help you avoid sunburn, premature aging, immune system suppression and skin cancer.

Today’s farmers and ranchers would be well advised to take a chapter out of their dusty old family albums. To return to those days of floppy, wide-brimmed straw hats and long-sleeved, baggy cotton shirts.

Who knows?

Maybe they could start a new fashion craze as well as protect their skin from the damaging rays of the sun.

(John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.)


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