Farm workers across the South West are exposed to a wide range of pesticides and chemicals such as detergents, disinfectants, fertilisers, and veterinary products.
Pesticides are used to protect crops and livestock from insect pests, weeds and fungal diseases, as well as to prevent rodents, insects, microbes and moulds from contaminating stored food. They are toxic products and they should always be used with care.
Regulations for use
Pesticides can harm both humans and wildlife, and there are strict regulations governing their sale and use. All users of plant protection products and sheep dips must undergo training and hold a Certificate of Competence. Since 25th November 2015 this has been replaced by a Specified Certificate, and everyone using pesticides needs one.
You will need to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) and the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012. From December 2015, the Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products will replace previous codes of practice. Although following the guidance is not obligatory, it will help you to meet legal requirements.
Are pesticides or chemicals required?
Use pesticides and chemicals responsibly, and use only as a last resort. Over-use of pesticides may increase pest resistance. If a pest is present, establish whether there is an alternative way to eliminate it, for example, by using crop rotation, biological controls or different crop varieties. If not, choose the least hazardous products available.
Handling pesticides and chemicals
Set up control measures for the safe use of chemicals by following the product user manual and relevant safety data sheets. Include instructions for carrying out the task, how to deal with an accident, spillage, or contamination, and checks to be performed on equipment wear and tear. Consider keeping a maintenance log book.
Before use, check if the product has a danger label and whether it produces any harmful by-products, such as fumes, or if it can harm skin. Assess any harm that could arise from use of the product and find ways to minimise this. Use appropriate PPE to avoid breathing in fumes or dust, chemical contact with skin or eyes, puncturing your skin, or ingesting harmful substances. Beware of flammable substances and those which give off clouds of dust, such as in grain stores.
You have a duty to provide training for all operators, which should include working with chemicals, storing them and what to do in case of spillage or exposure. To minimise hazards, consider putting lids on storage bins, enclosing the chemical process, installing dust extractors and fresh air blowers, restricting other workers’ access, and providing refuges (clean rooms), and first aid points with showering and washing facilities near hazardous work areas.
Chemicals and pesticides need to be stored in leak-proof buildings which are constructed from fire resistant materials, and should be locked at all times. They should be large enough to contain all chemicals and any empty containers and spraying equipment. Store all chemicals according to manufacturer’s instructions. When out of the store, all chemicals should be transported safely to their place of use and then returned to the store immediately.
Use licensed waste-disposal sites or contractors to dispose of chemicals and contaminated materials safely and legally. Do not let waste chemicals and pesticides containers accumulate around the farm as they may contribute to soil and water pollution. Prior authorisation from the Environment Agency is required to dispose of sheep dip waste on your farm.
Cleaning up and disposing of materials after a chemical spill can be hazardous. Your risk assessment should include the measures needed to control spills safely. Ensure that spill kits are available and that workers know how to use them. Use inert, absorbent material such as dry sand to stop the spill from spreading. Never allow a spill to enter a water course. If you cannot avoid this, inform the Environment Agency[m1] immediately.
Risks of disease for humans
Although many chemicals used on farms can harm health, proper working practices will minimise risks. Beware of working in hazardous environments, such as dusty or pesticide-laden air without adequate PPE, as although there may be no immediate outward signs of contamination, some diseases occur from prolonged exposure and may take years to develop. Provide regular health checks for staff working with pesticides or chemicals.
Exposure to chemicals can occur through handling, splashes, breathing poultry dust or fumes, or contact with sick animals or contaminated surfaces. When breathed in, some substances can attack the nose, throat or lungs and lead to chronic lung disease such as bronchitis. Contact with chemicals can cause skin damage, such as dermatitis, and some substances can pass through the skin and damage other parts of the body. You can transfer chemicals from hands to mouth when eating or smoking without first washing hands. Unprotected eyes can be exposed to gases, dust or splashes, and may result in temporary or permanent eye damage.
Anyone who when working with pesticides feels unwell should seek prompt medical attention. You will need to provide medical practitioners with details of the product used. It is also important to report any incidents to the Health and Safety Executive.