You are currently viewing Health and safety in agriculture

Health and safety in agriculture

AGRICULTURE is one of the most hazardous occupations worldwide. In several countries the fatal accident rate in the agricultural sector is double the average for all other industries. According to ILO estimates, workers suffer 250 million accidents every year. Out of a total of 335,000 fatal workplace accidents world-wide, there are some 170,000 deaths among agricultural workers.
The agricultural workers belong to the two main agricultural streams; the first is low-skilled subsistence farming, in which a large proportion of the rural population works; whilst the second is skilled market-oriented farmers and agricultural waged workers, who use highly mechanised equipment.
Farming just like any occupation needs many different skills and the one of the main skills is undoubtedly the ability to get your work done without suffering personal injury or death. Therefore, an awareness of Health and Safety issues is very important.
The hazards of agriculture are unique from those found in other industries, and the intensive use of machinery and of pesticides and other agrochemicals has raised the risks. Machinery such as tractors and harvesters has the highest frequency rates of injury and fatality.
Exposure to pesticides and other agrochemicals constitutes a major occupational health risk which may result in poisoning and death and, in certain cases, work-related cancer and reproductive impairments.
Some common ergonomic hazards include: the use of inadequate equipment and tools, unnatural body position or prolonged static postures, carrying of heavy loads, repetitive work, and excessive long hours.
Others are health hazards arising from animal handling which includes transmissible animal diseases such as: brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis, hydatid disease, tularaemia, rabies, and Lyme disease, tinea and listeria meningitis.
Health problems in agriculture can develop unnoticed, unlike the effects of an injury which will usually be noticed quickly. You can best protect your health by being aware of the risks and reporting illness as soon as you become aware of it.
Extreme temperatures due to weather conditions and contact with poisonous, insects, spiders, scorpions and snakes are equally unique hazards faced by farm workers.
Despite these myriads of hazards, the industry has not spared the children as child labour is more prevalent in agriculture than in any other economic sector, accounting for approximately 70 percent of child labour world-wide. Most children work long hours, and a very high proportion of these children suffer injuries at work due to age immaturity.
The exposure to poor working conditions has undoubtedly serious repercussions on children’s growth, development and health.
As a country we need to play our part in making the agriculture sector safe. The task of improving Occupational Safety and Health in agriculture however faces a number of difficulties such as:
• Lack of clear-cut health and safety legislation to deal with agriculture. The sector is generally regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 2010 which is poorly applied in practice and inadequately enforced by labour inspectors.
• The labour inspectors are inadequately resourced and rarely ever visit farm enterprises.
Thus the challenges for improving occupational safety and health in agriculture need to be addressed on several fronts.
The country must ratify the international labour organisation’s (ILO) Safety and Health in Agriculture Convention 2001 (No. 184), and its supplementing Recommendation (No. 192) that provides protection of agricultural workers in respect to health and safety at their work places and thereafter, the Ministry of Agriculture should establish national policy on the subject and develop Occupational Safety and Health legislation taking account of all the requirements of this convention.
The labour inspectorate needs to address issues of resources for inspection and training in the context of OSH inspection in agriculture.
To the farmers and growers, you aim to manage your crops and animals so that they stay healthy and perform well to make your business profitable. You select the best breeds of livestock and crop varieties in support of this. When things go well (or badly) you get back to the drawing board and consider how you can learn from the experience to make the best decisions for the next season.
Managing health and safety is no different; you need to manage it to ensure that your staff and others are kept safe at work.
You need systems to assess and control risks; identifying hazards and assessing the risks they create is essential. Unless you know what hazards exist on your farms and the scale of the risk they present, you cannot know whether they need to be controlled or how to do so.
Risk assessment is nothing more than a careful look at what, in your business, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more.
It is a farm owners’ responsibility to ensure legal compliance in all aspects of farm production.
The author is a Chartered Member IOSH, MIIRSM