Working with chemicals

On the farm we rely on a vast range of products to keep machinery operating, to maintain animal health, to promote crop growth and keep the environment clean. Many of these products if in contact with living tissue can do significant harm.

Oils, fuels and other petroleum products including many paints can cause skin irritation or dermatitis. The natural oils in the skin, which are essential to maintain it in healthy flexible condition, are removed by petrol or other volatile agents. Prolonged exposure will increase the chances of cancerous change. This can not only affect the skin but as some of the substance can be absorbed into the body it causes this in other body organs.

Clearly the best way to avoid this is to reduce skin contact, if necessary by wearing protective gloves. Volatile agents, which evaporate easily, can enter the body via the lungs especially if used in a confined space. This can be very dangerous as they can act like an anaesthetic on the brain and also cause long term problems. Avoid using these in confined or poorly ventilated spaces as even a face mask will not stop them entering the lungs.

Animal health products especially those designed to be absorbed through the skin should be handled with great care as human skin does not act as a barrier to them and the active ingredients are not designed to be a human medicine. Skin protection and immediate washing are essential. Accidental injection with an animal product brings three risks. The first is related to the product itself and the other two are of infection either from a dirty needle or from an infected animal. Medical advice should be sought in such a situation. Sheep dip has been known for years to have long term health implications for those users who have not taken adequate steps to avoid skin contact or ingestion.

Crop treatments and sprays if inhaled or in contact with skin can give immediate and long term health problems. We should never blow out blocked nozzles by mouth or indeed allow sprays even in diluted form onto skin as absorption can occur even at high dilutions. Artificial fertilizer in contact with skin can cause a chemical burn especially if moisture is present allowing the granules to ‘melt’. Products used to treat harvested grains are strong acids, even more damaging than battery acid to human tissue. These should be treated with utmost care including the wearing of eye protection to avoid devastating injury and disfigurement.

Detergents and hypochlorite can cause skin and eye irritation in even droplet sized amounts. Appropriate protection is essential to avoid risk of injury. Industrial/agricultural grade detergents in contact with skin remove protective natural oils leaving skin vulnerable to further damage and infection.

To get the gain without the pain from chemicals we need to have some simple rules in place:

• Do you really need to use the product?
• Keep the product in the original labelled and re-sealable container
• Protect children and animals from accessing them
• Keep instructions and use only for intended purpose
• Use appropriate personal protection
• Have close access to eye wash kit and clean water
• Maintain a clean air supply
• Wash off contamination immediately
• Seek medical advice if unsure of correct action if exposed
• Dispose of discarded supply in an appropriate way



    Page last updated:04 February 2013