Don’t let chemicals ruin your spring 26 Aug 2015

Personal protection when handling chemicals is a high priority for Victorian grain and sheep producer Duncan Giles, who knows first-hand the dangers of hazardous exposure.

Several years ago, herbicide fumes were leaking into his tractor cab over an extended period of time and this led to the onset of serious health issues, including headaches, fatigue and a reaction in his mouth.

He subsequently sold that tractor and upgraded, and started to wear more protective gear when doing any work associated with chemical products on his farm.

As grain growers gear up for the busy period heading into spring, the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP) is encouraging everyone to think about appropriate personal protection, along with correct storage, handling, transporting, application and disposal practices, when using chemicals on-farm. 

Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) representative on the PIHSP Advisory Committee, Tom McCue, says following a few simple steps can help to ensure safe chemical handling all year round:

  • Treat all chemicals with extreme caution and follow instructions carefully

  • Wear protective clothing, cover exposed skin, and wear gloves, goggles and a face mask if required

  • Apply chemicals only in suitable environmental and weather conditions

  • Store chemicals safely, out of children’s reach and away from seeds and fertilisers

  • Undertake training in the safe handling of agricultural and veterinary chemicals, in accordance with work health and safety legislation in your state

  • Report any adverse events, such as unexpected crop damage or a reaction needing medical assistance, to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) on 02 6210 4701

  • Have a ready reference guide for local support services in the event of exposure.

(Source: National Centre for Farmer Health, GRDC, PIHSP)

As Mr Giles joins many other Australian growers applying late-season herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and insecticides, he says it is important not to let down his guard at this end of the season.

In the past he has participated in the National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH) Sustainable Farm Families program and recently attended one of its AgriSafe™ clinics, where he received a comprehensive health, wellbeing and safety assessment. 

One of the assessment screenings included testing for specific exposure to particular insecticides as part of a research initiative undertaken by NCFH Education to minimise risks of exposure.

Mr Giles said during the clinic, the use of personal protection equipment was highlighted and recommended.

He now uses protective gloves, a heavy dairy farming apron to protect against splashing and a cartridge respirator in the tractor cab when handling chemical products.

“This spring I am going to add a full face respirator to my safety tool kit when mixing and using late season broadleaf herbicides, fungicides for rust on wheat crops and any insecticides that I might need,” he said.

“This may seem extreme, but in my experience of adverse health side-effects from exposure to chemicals, it is something I now take very seriously.

“Using a respirator inside the tractor has made a big difference when I am spraying and the AgriSafe Safety shop can supply me with a quality face mask equipped with a respirator that doesn’t fog up, so I can now add that to my arsenal outside the cab.”

Mr McCue said any chemical used on-farm should be treated with extreme caution and handled according to the manufacturer’s instructions for the grower’s own safety and that of the environment.

“Hazardous materials are required by law to include a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and label and these documents provide valuable safety information,” he said.

PIHSP, funded by the Research and Development Corporations for the meat processing, cotton, grains and livestock industries and the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, manages research aimed at increasing awareness and improving safety on-farm. 

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More information about the AgriSafe clinics and National Centre for Farmer Health can be found at: