Last month, in this space, I got pushy about safety, in particular personal protective equipment. Frankly, one can never really be too pushy about safety in our industry.

As you probably noticed on the cover, there’s a ribbon marking May as Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Almost everyone has been touched by cancer in some way – either you, a loved one or a friend – and skin cancer is hugely prevalent in agriculture, especially field workers.

In our industry, skin cancer is a largely avoidable but often overlooked job hazard. You, your coworkers and employees spend huge amounts of time outside, under the sun. It’s part of the gig, and we hope for lots of sun (with a friendly mix of rain showers, of course) to ensure healthy, abundant crops.

Another consideration is the continuous aging of our industry: the average age of an American farmer is 57. What that means is that you’ve probably spent quite a few days outside in the sun – long before the risks of sun exposure and skin cancer were known. Even when sunscreen became available, farmers rarely used it.

Over the past 40 years, the number of newly diagnosed skin cancer cases – especially the most deadly, melanoma – has continued to rise despite public awareness and informational campaigns. While improved treatments are improving the long-term survival rate, it’s still a serious issue.

So, what’s the solution?

First of all, cover up. Put on a wide-brim hat, wear long-sleeved shirts when possible and get some sunscreen – and use it! Again, you’re not too cool to be safe, and when you set the example, others are more likely to follow suit.

Along those lines, if you have employees, make sure they’re doing the same, and, if necessary, provide sunscreen, hats, gloves, etc. and require they wear them. Set the example yourself by taking care to protect yourself, then post important information with posters or signs, provide necessary gear and products and keep your team healthy.

Finally, keep an eye on your skin, especially those areas that have been exposed over the year, unprotected, like your arms, hands, neck, etc. Look for changes in moles and other blemishes that grow or worsen. If you think something looks wrong, go with your gut and consult your doctor. Early detection is key.

Ultimately, skin cancer is largely preventable, so be sun smart out there.

Bob M. Montgomery

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