ARCHIVE: Farming health and safety: Hazardous chemicals
Farming and managing the land often involves exposure to chemicals which can put people’s health at risk. Correct management of these hazardous chemicals will safeguard employee safety and may also improve crop yields.
Hazardous chemicals include substances that are used directly at work and those that may be generated as a result of work activities.
Employers must protect people who may be exposed to these by complying with Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations.
Among the more common hazardous chemicals used in farming are:
- ammonium nitrate
- veterinary medicines
Hazardous chemicals and the law
Failing to control hazardous substances adequately can cause employees and other people to become ill – sometimes years later.
Effects from hazardous substances range from mild eye irritation to chronic lung disease or, on occasions, death.
This may leave the farm liable to enforcement action, including prosecution, or result in civil claims from employees.
The full details of the COSHH regulations are available from the Health and Safety Executive website.
Further specific advice for most purchased products is available on the manufacturer’s label or product data sheet which you must read before use.
All pesticides used on a farm must be approved under the Control of Pesticides Regulations (COPR) 1986 (as amended), or the Plant Protection Products Regulations (PPPR) 1995.
The Pesticides Safety Directorate issues Codes of Practice which should be followed to ensure products are stored and used safely and within the law. The codes highlight that you must follow the instructions on the product label and that the pesticide must not be used for any other purpose other than for the use which the label states it is approved.
In addition, if the product is approved for professional or industrial use, you should receive appropriate training in the safe use of pesticides before use and also for storage for sale of such pesticides.
There should be no health problems so long as the instructions are followed but a doctor should be contacted if illness is experienced after use.
The product name, approval number and active ingredient should be noted and given to the doctor. If possible, the pesticide container should be kept.
The incident should also be reported to the Health and Safety Executive local office so any necessary action can be taken.
The storage of ammonium nitrate as a chemical fertiliser in large quantities on farms can pose a particular hazard.
Ammonium nitrate should normally be stored in a single storey, dedicated, well-ventilated building constructed from concrete, bricks or steel.
Stacks should be limited to a maximum of 300 tonnes to reduce the risk of damage should the stack combust.
Ammonium nitrate fertiliser should be separated from hay, straw, grain, feedstuffs, or other combustible materials by a suitable fire break.
This should be a distance of at least 5 metres or a barrier of inert material measuring at least 1.5 metres wide.
Storage should be located away from possible sources of heat, fire or explosion, such as oil tanks, gas pipelines, and flammable substances.
Further guidance is available in the Health and Safety Executive booklet Storing and Handling Ammonium Nitrate.
You must keep all veterinary medicines, including sheep dips (see below), securely stored and out of the reach of children.
Before using a medicine, you should also consider whether a less hazardous product could be used, for example using water-based rather than oil-based vaccines. If you are in any doubt you should contact your veterinary surgeon.
Veterinary medicines can be absorbed through the skin, accidentally self-injected, swallowed or breathed in as a vapour or aerosol. S uspected adverse reactions to veterinary medicines should be reported immediately to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. Products should be disposed of properly.
Further guidance is available in the Health and Safety Executive information sheet about Veterinary Medicines.
Where possible, closed transfer systems should be used for handling organophosphate dip concentrate, with splash screens around the dip bath.
Splashes to the skin and clothing should be washed off immediately. It is also important to wash before eating, drinking or smoking.
Do not work among freshly treated animals if you could be contaminated.
For full details on both the use and the safe disposal of sheep dip you should refer to Defra’s Groundwater Protection Code.
Exposure of the skin to chemical agents can cause dermatitis. Signs include redness, itching, scaling and blistering.
It is the employer’s obligation to provide the correct protective clothing and gloves, which should be cleaned or replaced regularly.
Employees should be properly trained and informed about any substances they work with that can cause dermatitis.
Overalls and a face shield or full-face mask should be worn when carrying out a job involving liquids, fumes or dust that can cause dermatitis.
When using diluted chemicals, make sure they are diluted to the correct strength. Concentrated chemicals are more likely to cause dermatitis.
Further guidance is available in the Health and Safety Executive booklet Preventing Dermatitis at Work.
Defra helpline – 08459 33 55 77
Health and Safety Executive infoline – 0845 345 0055
Pesticides Safety Directorate Information section – 01904 455775Workplace Health Connect – 0845 609 6006
Page last modified: 26 May 2010
Page published: 1 July 2006