Farmers' and outdoor workers' beliefs about skin cancer and protection from summer sun: a brief report

Dobbinson S, Doyle C, Wakefield M

CBRC Research Paper Series No. 18

Approximately 360 people were approached to complete a brief questionnaire about sun protection behaviours and beliefs about skin cancer while attending either an outdoor field day in Lardner Park or weekend cattle sales in Traralgon and Warragul during March to May 2004. The overall response rate was approximately 64%, and of these respondents, 99 were farmers and 60 were other outdoor workers.

Over 83% of farmers and outdoor workers believed that you can die from melanoma and other types of skin cancer, and that more than 1000 people die of skin cancer each year in Australia. Three quarters of respondents (73% of farmers and 78% of other outdoor workers) thought that there was some chance or a high chance that they would get skin cancer.

While most respondents thought that they were at risk of developing skin cancer, their prevention practices were less than optimal, particularly in use of sunscreen and long-sleeved shirts. Most respondents wore a wide brimmed hat – 75% of farmers and 79% of outdoor workers, while 35% of farmers were observed wearing a wide-brimmed hat and 24% a peaked hat at the time of the interview. 75% of farmers and 52% of other outdoor workers usually or always wore long trousers. However only 27% of farmers and 17% of other outdoor workers usually wore long-sleeved shirts. 48% of farmers and 40% of other outdoor workers indicated that they never wore sunscreen on all exposed skin when they were working outdoors between 11 am and 3 pm on sunny days in summer. Only 27% of farmers and 17% of other outdoor workers usually or always wore a long-sleeved shirt.

More research needs to be undertaken to confirm these results in a larger study and to investigate how sunscreens and other sun protection could be made more user friendly for farmers and other outdoor workers. Counselling by health care providers, and other educational interventions can improve sun protection behaviour.