Safety a full-time job for Arcola farm family
Pat Titus has a big job when it comes to safety.
“I make sure they go home each night,” said the safety and regulatory supervisor at Illini FS, an agricultural cooperative that provides agronomy, energy, facility planning and logistics. Pat carries this responsibility home to the family farm.
While dangers exist year-round for those who work outside, summer poses extreme threats—exposure to sun, heavy equipment and chemicals.
Air conditioning and tinted windows offer some protection, but not from harmful UV rays.
“Today’s equipment has cabs where it used to be open air. I think people think it’s safe when danger still exists—especially from sun damage,” Pat said.
Those advances didn’t keep Pat’s husband, Phil, safe from a skin cancer diagnosis. The hog farmer from Arcola noticed a small spot on his left shoulder, but didn’t think much of it until he dislocated his shoulder last summer. The spot had grown to the size of a tennis ball, and doctors were concerned.
Following 30 days of radiation, Phil is on the road to recovery and watched by his dermatologist. But he’s not out of the woods because farmers and other outdoor workers often have their arms, necks and ears exposed.
“When your work day varies so much and you’re in and out, it’s easy to forget the sunscreen. Pat reminds us that even when it’s cloudy applying sunscreen regularly should be a part of your good safety habits,” he said.
Now Pat places sunscreen on the table and calls to remind Phil. He stresses it’s as important when you play golf, spend a day at the beach or even mow.
“His skin cancer put me on point. Sunscreen won’t hurt you, but skin cancer can kill you,” Pat said.
The Titus family posts on social media about Phil’s journey and encourages other families to wear sunscreen.
“My friends are tagging their friends and loved ones and telling them to ‘slather it on!’” Pat said.
Phil knows skin cancer is common among famers. It’s not unusual to see older farmers with portions of their ears missing.
Carle Dermatologist William Holmes, MD, recommends discussing spots with your Primary Care Physician (PCP) to identify concerns and get treatments early.
“For instance, if you’re out on the golf course or working in the yard or the field a lot, get those small skin abnormalities looked at now. Don’t tell yourself you’ll get to it ‘someday.’ It might be much more serious someday,” Dr. Holmes said.
He also says watch for these skin cancer warning signs, and get anything new or unusual checked out right away.
- Asymmetry: Odd-shaped moles can be a sign of melanoma
- Border: Uneven borders around a mole or other skin growth can signal a problem.
- Color: Evenly colored growths are usually OK. A variety of colors might not be.
- Diameter: Get anything larger than a pencil eraser checked out immediately.
- Evolving: Change isn’t always good when it comes to moles, spots and bumps.
There are more ways to reduce the risks. Resourceful farmers like Phil work before and after the sun’s intense hours, but even that isn’t foolproof.
“The sun comes up nice and early so I structure my day around the heat and sun when I can,” he said.
Amy Rademaker, Carle Rural Heath and Farm Safety specialist, reminds us the sun’s rays can still be harmful at 6 a.m.
“I think people believe that in the spring and fall when it’s cool they aren’t going to get burned, but long sun exposure when it’s cool can burn you just the same,” Rademaker said.