Working Around Hazardous Agricultural Chemicals

Author
George Davis

If you live in the country like I do, you see people working in fields day and night, from the farmer next door to the huge corporate-run farms with hundreds of people working on them. Farming has been the life blood of this country since the beginning. Working the soil, planting, watering, and waiting for your efforts to bear fruit is in our blood. It’s hard, back breaking, dirty work. But it’s one every American depends on.

Over the years pesticides have evolved from killing one insect, to many; from absolute toxic, to organic, and everything in-between. For those who work on the farms and in the fields there are certain things you need to know, precautions you need to take. This article contains many of the precautions and guidelines you need to work safely with pesticides. I hope the information is helpful and you can use it as you go through your day. If you would like more information, please feel free to contact me.


How Hazardous Chemicals Enter the Body
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To protect yourself from hazardous chemical exposure, you need to understand the three ways chemicals can enter your body: (1) Through your nose and mouth by breathing in dusts or fumes (2) through your mouth by swallowing, and (3) through your skin or eyes

Signs & Symptoms of Exposure: Some chemicals can enter your body through your skin or cause rashes or burns. Your skin could become red and itchy, and blisters may form. Eye redness and soreness can be caused from splashing a chemical in your eyes or rubbing your eyes with a hand or clothing that has chemicals on it. Skin rashes and eye irritation can become serious injuries and need to be treated by a doctor. You may be exposed to different types of chemicals such as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, or fumigants. If you have been overexposed to a hazardous chemical, you may have one or more of these
symptoms:

Herbicides can cause burning/ irritation in eyes, nose, and throat; nosebleeds; coughing; muscle cramps; muscle weakness; blisters; and stomach cramps. Insecticides can cause sweating, headache, flu-like symptoms, blurred vision, sleepiness, and vomiting. Fungicides can cause skin and eye irritation and dermatitis. Fumigants can cause central nervous system depression; irritation in eyes, nose, and throat; weakness; nausea; vomiting; headache; respiratory paralysis; skin blisters; and liver/kidney damage.

Signs of serious exposure (this could cause death): very small pupils in the eyes, drooling and a runny nose, as well as trouble breathing trouble breathing. If a person shows these signs, get medical help immediately! Take the label or chemical container with you to the doctor. Overexposure to some chemicals may not have effects for a long time. Limiting exposure by following safe work practices will prevent these effects.

Residues: Chemical residues are small amounts of pesticides or fertilizers that remain after fields have been treated. Hazardous chemical residues can be on plants, in soil, and sometimes in irrigation systems used to apply hazardous chemicals. Residue can be carried by the wind into your area from other applications. Chemical residue can’t always be seen, so you should cover as much of your skin as possible. This will help prevent skin rashes or overexposure. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long-legged pants, a hat, socks and shoes or boots, and unlined gloves that can be properly cleaned. Do not wear leather boots because they can absorb chemicals from plants, irrigation systems, and the soil.

Re-Entry Period: Some hazardous chemicals are poisonous for a period of time after they are applied. The re-entry period is the amount of time that must pass before it is safe to go back into a treated area. Do not re-enter an area until the reentry time has passed. Laws require different restricted entry intervals (REIs) for different pesticides and different types of work.

Safe Practices for Handling Hazardous Chemicals: Wear protective clothing. Wash protective clothing, such as gloves and boots, before taking them off. Wash your work clothes separately from other laundry, using detergent and hot water, before wearing them again. Wash your hands and arms after putting work clothes into the wash. Wash with soap and water, and shampoo your hair after work each day. Always wash face and hands with soap and water before eating, drinking, smoking, or using the toilet. Wash picked food before you eat it.

Unsafe Practices for Handling Hazardous Chemicals: Don’t enter a field that has been posted with a “re-entry” warning sign. Don’t smoke when working in treated fields. Don’t carry lunch and drinks into a sprayed field. Don’t use water in drainage ditches or irrigation systems for drinking or for washing food, it could contain hazardous chemical residues. Don’t put hazardous chemicals in unmarked containers, food and drink bottles, or jars. Never take hazardous chemical containers home for use around the house. Stay away from a field that is being sprayed and from areas to which hazardous chemicals may drift. Don’t burn hazardous chemical bags for fuel – they can give off poisonous fumes.

First Aid: If an accident happens when you’re using hazardous chemicals, get label information and get immediate help. If medical help isn’t available, follow the first-aid directions on the label. If you have signs of chemical poisoning, get medical help. Take the hazardous chemical label or material safety data sheet (MSDS) to the doctor, health clinic, or emergency room. Immediately wash in the nearest clean water if pesticides are spilled or sprayed onto your body. Then shower, shampoo, and change into clean clothing as soon as possible. Get medical attention if any signs of overexposure are present.
Swallowing a hazardous chemical can cause poisoning or death. If you swallow a hazardous chemical, get immediate medical treatment.
Eye damage can happen in a few minutes from some types of hazardous chemicals. Eyes absorb hazardous chemicals faster than any other part of the body. Rinse your eyes immediately with clean water for 15 minutes.

Worker Rights: Your boss must tell you about the pesticides used at work and must do the following: Warn you about areas where pesticides are to be applied and areas you may not enter. Provide you with soap, water, and towels. Make sure you get to medical help if you think you‘ve been poisoned at work by pesticides.

Discrimination: Employees are protected from discrimination from an employer in the event they report or complain about a violation of any safety and health law.

In conclusion, the following must be posted: The name of the pesticide, exactly where it was applied, when it was applied, the restricted entry interval (REI), when workers may return to the work area, this information has to be written and posted in a central location that is easily accessible to all workers, before pesticides are applied.

All employees have the right to request and receive a copy of MSDSs regarding hazardous chemicals in the workplace. When you are concerned about safety and health practices or dangers in the workplace, notify your employer immediately. Any employee may report concerns about safety and health conditions in the workplace directly to the Occupational Safety and Health Division (OSHA). Upon receiving an employee complaint, OSHA will investigate.

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