on Chemical Safety
Safety and Health in the Use of Agrochemicals
An ILO contribution to
the International Programme on Chemical Safety
(a collaborative programme of the United Nations Environment Programme the International Labour Organisation and the World Health Organization)
In 1990, with a view to reducing the incidence of chemically induced illnesses and injuries at work, the International Labour Conference adopted the Safety in the Use of Chemicals at Work Convention (No. 170), and Recommendation (No. 177). As one of its actions to promote the implementation of ILO standards on safety in the use of chemicals - including agrochemicals - at national level, the International Labour Office is preparing a training manual on the safe use of chemicals at the workplace. It has also embarked upon the task of providing basic guidelines on safety and health 'in the use of agrochemicals - in the recognition that agrochemicals will continue to be used in large quantities world-wide in the years to come and that an estimated 2 million people annually are poisoned by pesticides, of whom some 40,000 die. This book is the outcome of that project.
During the past two and a half decades, the ILO has undertaken a series of actions at international level to improve the safety and health of many millions of workers engaged in agriculture; in 1965 it published a code of practice on Safety and health in agricultural work,' followed by a Guide to safety in ag7iculture in 1969. While the code provided a set of rules for the guidance of those with responsibilities for safety and health in agriculture, the guide gave further details on prevention but dealt only in summary fashion with matters of health and hygiene. Safe use of pesticides, published in 1977, laid down general principles and safety requirements for various application techniques as well as medical measures of prevention. The subject of safe transport of pesticides was also treated adequately in this publication. A Guide to health and hygiene in agricultural work, published in 1979, was intended to protect agricultural workers from accidents and diseases at work. It dealt extensively with the physiology and toxicology of pesticides and with medical surveillance.
It is hoped that the information in the present guide will be of value to those directly engaged in the handling and use of agrochemicals. Emphasis has been laid extensively on safe handling and use, and on practical measures to be taken to avoid undue consequences. The guide is intended for use as a training aid in ILO technical co-operation projects to encourage action at national level. Training activities within technical co-operation programmes are carried out through existing national infrastructures - government authorities, employers and workers and their organisations - to ensure tripartite involvement in promoting safety and health in agriculture. Thus the guide will be complementary to the activities of other international agencies that contribute to safe working conditions in agriculture such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The ILO appreciates the technical assistance given by Mr. John Surnmerscales, Deputy Chief Agricultural Inspector of the Health and Safety Executive, United Kingdom, in the preparation of the guide. Thanks are also due to Noha Karanuh, who drew the illustrations.
There is a wealth of literature about agrochemicals: and the information base is spreading as a result of their wide use. This pertains to agricultural economics; the technology of manufacture; standards on transport, distribution, sale and application; and a variety of other aspects including harmful effects on workers who use agrochemicals, as well as their impact on the general environment. Despite this, both confirmed and unconfirmed reports have revealed that many workers, particularly in developing countries, continue to be poisoned or killed mainly on account of unsafe practices in the use of agrochemicals. In spite of the existing information, including that dealing with safety and health aspects, the evidence points to the difficulty of providing safe working conditions for persons handling agrochemicals. Safety and health concerns deserve closer attention because agricultural production is increasing in most parts of the world. Food supplies will have to be more than doubled in the next 30 years to meet even the minimum requirements of the world population. The use of agrochemicals will also necessarily increase.
One main obstacle in achieving safe working conditions is the wide geographical distribution of agricultural workers, who are often self-employed. Simple " ready-to-use " information on safety in the use of agrochemicals: must in some way reach the target group. Realistically, one cannot expect many farmers to have the potential or the motivation for self-education in safety and health. Hence the present guide is primarily aimed at community leaders such as agricultural extension workers, farm managers who play an active role in supervising agricultural workers, schoolteachers, primary health-care workers, retail salespeople, and workers' education leaders at community centres. It is also hoped that employers' and workers' organisations in the organised plantation sector w find the guide a useful training aid.
Because of the target group, detailed accounts of human physiology and toxicology, and treatment of poisoning, have been purposely omitted from the text. Practical guidance on safety precautions to be observed in the use of agrochemicals has been given in simple and understandable language.' The reader will see that such guidance is repeated in various sections of the chapters. This is intentional. The reason is that these sections have been structured in a manner to enable trainers to treat individual units separately in their training activities. Discussions and activities are suggested at the end of each chapter and of several sections of Chapter 2. It is hoped that trainers will find these useful, particularly in group training exercises. Individual users will find them equally valuable for self-evaluation.
A glossary of the technical terms used in this book is given in Annex A
1.1. Needs and precautions
Agrochemicals are used world-wide to improve or protect crops and livestock. Fertilisers are applied to obtain good yields from crops that are protected from insects and disease by the timely use of pesticides. Farm animals are similarly protected from parasites and disease by veterinary treatment such as vaccination, oral dosing or immersion dipping. The word "use" should be interpreted its widest sense to include the use by any person, whether employer, worker or family, and should also include any associated activity such as handling, storage, transport, spillage and disposal.
All these uses may involve a wide range of equipment from aircraft to self-propelled sprayers; or from manually operated sprayers to application by hand. The substances in use also vary and may include powders, granules, liquids or gases. Many are poisonous or harmful to humans, livestock, wildlife and the environment through several causes: toxic and corrosive effects; risk of explosion or fire;, indiscriminate use that might pollute the air, water and soil resulting in high residual levels in foodstuffs that are consumed; and contamination of drinking-water.
Practical measures to eliminate or minimize the harmful effects of agrochemicals are described in this guide, together with an outline of good practice in distribution, formulation, use, storage and disposal, as well as the proper recording of relevant events and incidents. The guide also attempts to recognise the special problems within some developing countries. The advice provided should play a significant role in ensuring that agrochemicals are used safely and without unnecessary risk to human beings, livestock, wildlife and the environment.
This guide interprets the word "agrochemicals " to mean all chemical products which are manufactured or processed for use at work in agriculture and allied industries. It includes pesticides, veterinary products and the more hazardous fertilisers and chemicals as described in the next section. Furthermore, the recommendations and advice given in this guide are compatible with and support the relevant provisions of the FAO Intentional code of conduct on the distribution and use of pesticides, adopted in 1985.
1.2. Grouping of agrochemicals
The word " pesticides " describes a group of agrochemicals intended to destroy or control pests of all kinds. Pesticides are named according to their intended use. For example, insecticides are used against insects, herbicides against plants and fungicides against fungi. A list of examples is~ given in Annex B. Some insect predators, and certain micro-organisms such as bacteria (bacillus thuringiensis), fungi (Verticillium lecanii) and viruses (pine sawfly NPV) are also used to kill or control pests. This guide will, however, be confined to agrochemical pesticides.
1.2.2. Commodity chemicals
Commodity chemicals are those
substances which are manufactured for use in either agriculture or other industries. They
may also include by-products of an industrial process or even industrial waste such as
dilute caustic or acidic solutions. These substances are generally used in farming and
have corrosive action on exposed parts of the human body. Some examples are listed in
Figure I. Applying pesticide dust
to cattle to
1.2.3. On-farm veterinary products
On-farm veterinary products are those substances used in the rearing of animals. This group of agrochemicals is applied to the skin of animals (figure 1) or administered orally or by injection by agricultural workers (figure 2). It excludes those substances manufactured only for use by veterinary surgeons., Annex B gives a list of examples.
Fertilisers are plant nutrients and trace elements applied generally to the soil to promote the growth of crops (figure 3). A list of these chemicals, also known as " artificial manure ", is given in Annex B. Some of them, both naturally occurring and manufactured, can cause irritation or burns to the skin.
Discussion and activities
- If they use fewer agrochemicals: per acre, can you find out why?
- Do they use other methods to control pests?
- Can you find ways of using fewer agrochemicals? If you can use less, you save money.
- Could you also reduce your stock of agrochemicals? Less stock means less investment at one time. There is also less chance of chemicals going to waste.
Figure 2. Oral dosing of sheep to
Figure 3. A tractor mounted with a fertilizer spreader