Industry tackles chemical health and safety issues

Tuesday, 24 June, 2003

Exposure to agricultural chemicals, petroleum products and other substances are leading occupational health and safety concerns on Australian farms.

Programs managed by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) have assessed the effects of such exposure and ways to prevent accidents.

RIRDC receives a wide range of support from agricultural bodies, including The Woolmark Company, and is advised by the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (ACAHS), the National Farmer's Federation, state departments of agriculture and other agricultural sectors.

Educational programs have been established to deal with improving woolgrowers' understanding of handling, using and selecting agricultural chemicals, according to ACAHS director, Dr Lyn Fragar.

"Improving the knowledge of how to prevent accidents with chemicals will not only reduce injury but reduce the cost of accidents to industry and improve competitiveness," she said.

Educational programs which focus on chemicals include the Australia-wide Farm Chemical Users Training Program - a practical approach to safe application of pesticides, and Farmsafe Australia's Managing Farm Safety program.

Studies were also focusing on the assessment of worker exposure to pesticides, and are needed to address exposure to organophosphates when dipping and jetting sheep, Dr Fragar said.

"It is difficult to define the damaging effects of chemical exposure on agricultural workers and it is a major concern. Many farmers when dipping and jetting may feel sick the next day but will consider it to be something else," she said. "We also need to consider what may be the safest system of work. It may not be rigging people up in protective clothing but modifying equipment in order to reduce splashback and spray drift."

A report into the effects of organophosphates in the United Kingdom sheep industries is currently being assessed by the National Registration Authority to determine its relevance to Australian conditions.

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