Don’t Fry this Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend is almost upon us, and the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention is using the holiday as a reminder not to “fry” in the sun. The agency officially established the Friday before Memorial Day as “Don’t Fry Day” in an effort to raise awareness about the growing incidence of skin cancer in the United States.

The American Cancer Society estimates that one American dies every hour from skin cancer. This year alone, ACS estimates there will be more than 76,250 new cases of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, and more than two million new cases of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers in the U.S.

“Farmers and ranchers are fortunate to be able to spend much of their working lives outdoors,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. “The downside of prolonged exposure to the sun while on the farm or ranch is that it can lead to skin damage and cancer.”

In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, outdoor workers experience twice the amount of nonmelanoma skin cancers (basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas) compared to those who work indoors.

Sunlight exposure is highest during the summer and between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Working outdoors during these times increases the chances of getting sunburned. Snow and light-colored sand reflect UV light and increase the risk of sunburn. At work sites with these conditions, UV rays may reach workers' exposed skin from both above and below. Workers are at risk of UV radiation even on cloudy days. Many drugs increase sensitivity to sunlight and the risk of getting sunburn. Some common ones include thiazides, diuretics, tetracycline, doxycycline, sulfa antibiotics, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen.

Workers at increased risk of UV damage include lifeguards, construction workers, agricultural workers, landscapers, gardeners, and other outdoor workers.

Unlike a thermal burn, sunburn is not immediately apparent. Symptoms usually start about four hours after sun exposure, worsen in 24-36 hours, and resolve in three to five days.

The pain from sunburn is worse six to 48 hours after sun exposure, and skin peeling usually begins three to eight days after exposure.

First Aid

  • Symptoms can be treated with aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to relieve pain and headache and reduce fever.
  • Drinking plenty of water helps to replace fluid losses.
  • Cool baths or the gentle application of cool wet cloths on the burned area may also provide some comfort.
  • A low-dose (0.5-1 percent) hydrocortisone cream, which is sold over the counter, may be helpful in reducing the burning sensation and swelling and speeding up healing.

Recommendations for Employers

Employers should take the following steps to protect workers from exposure to UV radiation:

  • When possible, avoid scheduling outdoor work when sunlight exposure is the greatest
  • Provide shaded or indoor break areas
  • Provide training to workers about UV radiation including their risk of exposure, how to prevent exposure, and the signs and symptoms of overexposure.

Recommendations for Workers

Workers should follow these recommendations to protect themselves from UV damage:

  • Wear sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15.
  • Old sunscreens should be thrown away because they lose their potency after 1-2 years.
  • Sunscreens should be liberally applied (a minimum of 1 ounce) at least 20 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Sunscreens should be reapplied at least every 2 hours and each time a person gets out of the water or perspires heavily. Some sunscreens may also lose efficacy when applied with insect repellents, necessitating more frequent application when the two products are used together.
  • Dark clothing with a tight weave is more protective than light-colored, loosely woven clothing.
  • High-SPF clothing has been developed to provide more protection for those with photosensitive skin or a history of skin cancer.
  • Workers should also wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses with almost 100 percent UV protection and with side panels to prevent excessive sun exposure to the eyes.

Posted by Laura Swift on May 21, 2012


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