Safeguarding Against the Effects of Agricultural Chemical Exposure (Information provided by Ansell)
Workplaces have a great variety of safety risks inherent to their design, and some workplaces have overlap in these risks. A notable example is the threat of exposure to 'agrichemicals' (agricultural chemicals), which, unlike the name would imply, are not restricted to purely agricultural fields.
What they are:
'Agrichemical' is an umbrella term for a wide variety of substances - from liquids to powders to pellets. Their uses are diverse, but can be generally organised under the 5 categories of Pesticides, Herbicides, Insecticides, Fungicides, and Fumigants. As you might be able to discern, these chemicals, useful as they are, can be just as dangerous to humans as they are to pests and herbs, and as such can pose a significant safety hazard to any field involving them.
Exposure to these chemicals can occur in many ways. Obvious scenarios include treatment of animals, crops, plants and grain stores in agricultural or livestock production settings, but other known risk environments include forestry, gardening, professional/domestic pest control, or exposure through the spraying of public parks, pavements and playgrounds.
Any process that employs fumigation for parasite management, such as cross-border biosecurity, also leaves workers open to exposure. Workers in industries away from the land are also at risk from these chemical types, including those carrying out the application of substances to preserve timber or marine drydock workers employing treatments on boat hulls and decks.
These substances have many different ways they can enter your body - through contact with the skin, if you breathe them in, or if they're ingested, and the dangers of these substances varies depending on the substance and the length of exposure. Just because you didn't touch the chemical doesn't mean it can't hurt you.
Detrimental short-term exposure will manifest symptoms, on average, within 48 hours, and can include (but is not limited to) the following effects:
- Respiratory tract inflammation, causing a sore throat and/or cough
- Allergic sensitisation
- Eye and skin irritation
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
- Headache, dizziness
- Extreme weakness
- Loss of consciousness
- In extreme cases, symptoms can include irregular heartbeat or abdominal pain and can even lead to fatality
Less is known about long-term effects, though some studies have linked even low levels of toxicity - acquired through contact - with the development of a frightening array of conditions. These may include everything from nervous system disorders (such as Parkinson’s disease), through to cancers (including leukaemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma), chronic lung conditions (like asthma) and immune or endocrine system disruptions. Some studies also suggest exposure can negatively contribute to mental health conditions including anxiety and depression, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
A recent research program developed by Australia’s Deakin University
aims to better understand the effects of long term agricultural chemical exposure via a longitudinal study of farmers. Specifically, the research project measures the cholinesterase enzyme levels in farmers at monthly intervals over the duration of one year, allowing for seasonal fluctuations in the use of some chemical types.
Cholinesterase enzymes are responsible for nervous system health, as they prevent the accumulation of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter) and the overstimulation of muscles and nerves this build-up creates.
Preliminary data drawn from the Deakin study indicates that cholinesterase enzymes are markedly lower in individuals with high exposure to organophosphate pesticides. Organophosphates are banned outright in the United States and restricted in the United Kingdom and EU, but are deemed an essential part of sheep, beef, grain and dairy production in Australia, due to a prevalence of pests that can only be eradicated through organophosphate use.
As complete removal of agrichemicals from industries is not a viable or sustainable option, workers and workplaces need to endeavour to protect the workers from hazards. The most effective defence against agrichemicals is the proper utilisation of PPEs - Personal Protective Equipment.
While the nature of the risk will largely determine the form of required PPE, adequate chemical protection calls for a detailed understanding of the substances to which workers are exposed. Protective clothing and gloves are manufactured in a wide range of styles and materials which mean they are more or less suited to specific applications. For example, some material types will be susceptible to failure by degradation or exposure from certain chemical types, particularly when combined with other environmental factors such as ambient temperature.
For more information about Agrichemical Exposure and how to avoid it, please click here