Professor Jane Mills, pro vice-chancellor of Massey University’s College of Health, explains how the future for rural health in NZ is positive.
Farmers and landowners encounter a wide range of chemicals and fuels onfarm every day.
These products might include pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, veterinary medicines, cleaning products like dairy sanitisers and, of course, diesel, petrol and LPG.
Many of these are controlled under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act of 1996, so farmers are required to store and use them correctly. Immediate and long-term risks arise if farmers don’t take necessary precautions.
In 2017, a Taranaki dairy farmer reportedly ended up in hospital intensive care after leaving chemicals to ‘soak’ on the floor of the milking shed. And a product used to clean farm machinery was tipped down a drain, combining with the dairy shed cleaner to produce ‘instant mustard gas’.
Some products are formulated to have a toxic effect on the nervous systems of pests, so improper use has the potential to work on human neurological systems in the same way. The prolonged use of some substances – and the cumulative effects that typically go unnoticed during use – can over time lead to health problems later in life.
Farmers or landowners must understand the potential risks of any product they use, particularly the effects on the user, family members, workers, contractors and visitors to their property.
The safe use of such products should start with the person in charge ensuring that anyone using the products is fully trained.
That training should encompass the hazards, how to keep safe, seeing that products are stored and used safely and what steps to take in an emergency.
Consider an audit of all products in storage, including those that might be redundant, taking note that they are labelled correctly; anyone encountering them must have access to safety data sheets (SDS).
If SDS are more than five years old, ask your supplier for up-to-date material.
Make sure you know the hazard classification for each product, while also keeping an inventory with a record of volumes in storage. People using hazardous items must know that personal protection equipment is always available, and that the people who need approved handler test certificates are so qualified.
Review the storage facilities onfarm, because dad’s ‘old shed’ used for the last 20 years might not be fit for purpose.
Ensure the storage is in a flood-free area, away from rivers or water courses.
The building should be made from non-flammable materials, with the internal layout designed to contain leaks or spills, at least six metres from combustible materials and 20m from habitable buildings.
Ensure safety information is prominently displayed, that personal protective equipment is readily available, with first aid kits and a supply of clean water.
Anyone who employs or contracts farm workers – or controls a farm – has a legal obligation to identify, eliminate, isolate, minimise and monitor hazards on their property. Managing chemicals and fuels is an integral part of this requirement.
Good practice will minimise the risk of injury, meet health and safety and environmental laws and, of course, ensure that you, your family and staff stay well clear of ambulances, hospitals and cemeteries.
• For more information visit WorkSafe’s ‘Guide to Working Safely with Fuels and Chemicals Onfarm’ at www.worksafe.govt.nz