Every day farmers are in contact with agents that may damage skin. Farmers are often exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, chemicals, or diseases passed from animals. It is important to recognize the dangers and to know how to prevent skin damage or disease.
The skin is the largest organ of the human body. It serves many important functions, including:
There is a range of healthy skin. Birthmarks, freckles or moles are usually normal. Thickened, scaling or inflamed skin is not normal. Infections caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi may cause pimples, boils, blisters or swollen, red patches of skin. Certain types of moles are not normal.
Inflammation of the skin is a common problem. There are two types of contact dermatitis, which can be difficult to tell apart.
“Irritant dermatitis” is caused by soaps, fertilizers, pesticides, fuels, solvents, plants, grains, or other agents. Persons with previous or current skin disease are more likely to develop this reaction. Symptoms usually occur on the hands or face and might include redness of skin, blisters, scales, crusts or changes in pigmentation. Usually irritant reactions develop within a few hours after exposure and are at their worst after about 24 hours.
“Allergic dermatitis” is caused by direct contact with allergenic substances. Allergies can develop suddenly, even after many years without a skin reaction. An allergy may last for life. Common agricultural skin allergens include pesticides, veterinary products, oats, barley, or other plants and insect parts. The skin may be itchy, painful, red, swollen or covered in small blisters. Symptoms usually occur at the site of contact, but in severe cases, may spread to cover large areas of the body. An allergic reaction usually starts within 12 hours of exposure, and is at its worst after three to four days, slowly improving in about seven days.
See your doctor if you are concerned about a possible work-related skin condition!
When checking hydraulic lines for leaks, farmers can suffer accidental injection of hydraulic fluid into a finger, hand or arm. Hydraulic pressure is around 3,000 psi and the fluid temperature is above boiling. Hydraulic fluid can cause severe tissue damage if injected.
Time is of the essence. Seek medical treatment. DO NOT apply a tourniquet to the affected limb to try to stop extension of the fluid. Amputation may be necessary due to severe tissue damage if not treated urgently.
Be aware that most patients report a stinging sensation or no pain at all, and as a result, may delay seeking treatment. Within one or two hours, tissue swelling occurs, followed by discolouration and numbness, with or without pain. After 4-6 hours, intense throbbing pain may develop.
Prevention is the key when checking hydraulic lines in operation. Wear shirts with long sleeves, gloves and eye protection.
Use cardboard (not your hand) to check for potential hydraulic leaks!
This common fertilizer is stored in a pressurized liquid format at -33º C. A caustic liquid, anhydrous ammonia will burn and “freeze dry” tissue. Injuries - often to hands, face and eyes - can be severe if not treated quickly.
Remove all contaminated clothing. Flush all affected tissues with water for up to 20 minutes. Eyes need to be flushed within the first 10 seconds to prevent permanent damage. After flushing, seek immediate medical treatment.
Safety when using anhydrous ammonia:
|UV index||Category||Sunburn time|
|Over 9||extreme||less than 15 minutes|
|7-9||high||about 20 minutes|
|4-7||moderate||about 30 minutes|
|0-4||low||more than one hour|
Sunlight is made up of visible, infrared and ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV rays can cause:
The most common form of cancer, skin cancer, is largely preventable and can be successfully treated if recognized early. The Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA) estimated that more than 60,000 Canadians would be diagnosed with skin cancer in 2003.
There is no such thing as a “healthy” tan. Too much sun increases the risk of skin cancer; however there is a lag time of between 10 and 30 years for skin cancer to develop, which may lead to a false sense of security. Several blistering sunburns as a child doubles the risk of skin cancer (especially melanoma) later in life.
Ultraviolet (UV) light causes cataracts (clouding of the eye lens) and macular degeneration (damage to the retina), the two most common causes of vision problems and blindness. Arc welding is also a source of UV exposure.
You are, if you have:
DID YOU KNOW? A typical summer UV index in Saskatchewan at midday is 7?
Solar keratoses or “sun spots” are pre-cancerous growths characterized by red or pinkish areas, with a thin white scale. If one picks at the scale, it feels like there is a needle piercing the skin. If left untreated by anti-cancer cream or liquid nitrogen, “sun spots” may develop into squamous cell carcinoma.
Success in treating skin cancer depends on the extent, stage and kind of cancer, and the response to treatment. However, the best safeguard against all types of skin cancer is prevention and early detection.
More information and pictures of these cancers can be viewed on the internet at the Canadian Dermatology Association website: www.dermatology.ca
DID YOU KNOW? A typical summer UV index in Saskatchewan at midday is 7?
Skin wounds are common on any farm. Cuts can easily become contaminated with bacteria, oils, grease or dirt.
This is an infection of the deep skin layers and underlying tissues. It can occur as a result of a cut, scratch or burn, and may lead to blood poisoning. People with poor circulation or diabetes are more at risk.
The skin is usually red, warm and painful. The inflamed area has ill-defined borders and may spread in size over a period of hours. The person may also have fever, chills and a headache. An abscess (collection of pus) may form.
Seek medical treatment promptly: antibiotics are essential in stopping this infection.
Ringworm is a type of fungal infection, most commonly passed to humans from infected cattle, puppies and kittens. Diagnosis can be difficult. Lesions are often present on parts of the skin in contact with sores on an animal. Ringworm is treated with oral antifungal drugs and antifungal creams.
Scabies is an organism living on cattle, pigs and in grain dust. Common symptoms include an itchy rash on the hands, wrists, chest and abdomen, which often worsens at night. Treatment consists of topical application of medications. Everyone in the household should be treated at the same time and clothing and bedding should be washed in soap and hot water.
Present on farms in many parts of Saskatchewan, ticks live primarily in grassy or wooded areas and can pass on two diseases which require medical treatment.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be fatal without treatment. Symptoms include a high fever, lack of energy and a headache behind the eyes. A reddish rash usually develops on the palms of hands and soles of feet.
Lyme Disease is passed to humans by ticks, usually from white-tailed deer. A small raised bump begins at the site of the tick bite. The area around the bite slowly expands and reddens, accompanied by fever, tiredness and headache. Arthritis may develop in knees or other large joints. Symptoms tend to flare up every one to three weeks, and slowly decrease in severity over 2 or 3 years.
Use of Insect Repellents Containing DEET
Retail sales of products containing concentrations of DEET greater than 30% are being phased out but can continue until December 31, 2004. This will allow existing products to be used up. You may continue to use products containing concentrations of DEET greater than 30% occasionally according to the label directions.
Health Canada recommends:
- Children younger than 6 months - Do not use insect repellents containing DEET.
- Children 6 months to 2 years - Use the least concentrated product (10% DEET or less) only when frequent insect bites are likely. Do not apply to the face or hands. Apply only once per day.
- Children 2 to 12 years - Use the least concentrated product (10% DEET or less), applying no more than three times per day.
- Persons 12 years and older - Use products with DEET concentrations less than 30%, following the manufacturer's recommendations.
Although rare, several Anthrax cases have occurred in Western Canada over the past decade. Humans usually acquire the skin form of this disease through a break in the skin while handling infected animals (cattle, horses, pigs, sheep) or their hides.
In animals, symptoms include listlessness and reduced milk flow, usually followed by rapid death. Carcasses bloat and should be burned or buried.
In humans, the skin infection begins with a reddish brown lesion that becomes an ulcer and scabs over. Fever, tiredness and swollen lymph nodes are usually present. Immediate medical treatment is required. This type of anthrax is not usually fatal, unlike the lung form. Prevention may include vaccination of animals or humans, and careful handling of sick livestock.
This is an infection of the skin caused by exposure to infected pigs or turkeys. It begins as a small red raised bump on the hands and spreads into a large red, swollen, inflamed area. Fever is not usually present. It is treated with antibiotics.
Sean Siever, RN, BScN Rural Health Extension Program Institute of Agricultural Rural and Environmental Health University of Saskatchewan Box 120, Royal University Hospital 103 Hospital Drive Saskatoon, SK S7N 0W8
Telephone: (306) 966-6643
Fax: (306) 966-8799
Special thanks to:
Dr. Roberta McKay, B.Sc.N., B.A. (Hons.), MD, FRCPC Dept. of Dermatology Regina General Hospital Dr. Neils Koehncke, MD, MsC., FRCPC (Occ. Med.) Occupational Medicine Institute of Agricultural Rural and Environmental Health
Publication #: Fact Sheet No. 18 March 2004
Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More