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Keeping Safe with Hazardous Substances in Agriculture

22nd May 2020

Hazardous substances are an inherent danger in the farming industry, especially at this time of year, however with the Covid-19 lock down and with children at home permanently it is even more important to be extra vigilant. 

H&H Insurance Brokers is working in partnership IRM Safety under the brand of H&H Safety, to promote farm health and safety to the agricultural industry in order to avoid common, often preventable accidents.

”Understanding what hazardous substances your employees, contractors and family could be exposed to is an important step in managing the safety on your farm.  From here, measures can be put in place to mitigate against accidents as prevention is always better than cure,” explains Neil Elsender, Managing Director of IRM Safety.

“Health and safety should be at forefront of farmers’ minds at all times, so following some simple steps and walking your farm to address potential risks, is key. And of course thereafter any potential hazards must be corrected to reduce the likelihood of an accident.”

Other than the obvious risks of hazardous substances, there are legislative implications for employers.  COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) is the law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health and covers:

  • Substances used directly in work activities e.g. paints, oils, lubricants, cleaning chemicals, disinfectants, fertilisers, many pesticides and veterinary medicines
  • Substances generated during work activities, e.g. Fumes from welding, vehicles
  • Naturally occurring substances, e.g. Grain dust, poultry dust, silo and slurry pit gases, composted and fermented materials such as silage
  • Regulated products e.g. pesticides, medicines, fertilisers
  • Biological agents e.g. bacteria and fungi
  • Diseases from animals which can transfer to humans e.g. leptospirosis.

Once you understand what is covered under COSHH, the next step is to put control measures in place and Neil is keen to highlight what to consider.

  • Eliminating Exposure – it sounds obvious but the first step is to reduce and potentially eliminate the use of hazardous substances by changing the way you work so the substance is not needed or generated, e.g. don’t use corrosive silage additives. Hazardous substances can also be replaced with a safer alternative or in a different form, e.g. introduce a liquid or wet feed in place of a dusty meal or crumb.
  • Controlling Exposure – If you must use the hazardous substance or you can’t avoid exposure to a natural product such as dust from grain or poultry, you must put in place appropriate control measures including:
    • Minimising the amount of substance used or produced, including length of exposure and how many are exposed to it
    • Engineering controls, e.g. enclosing the process or fitting local exhaust ventilation to remove toxic fume or dust at source
    • Good housekeeping to minimise accidental contact
    • Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as dust masks, respirators and gloves, (an area we are now familiar with the importance of as a result of the pandemic)
    • Good washing facilities to aid high standards of personal hygiene (another familiar activity amidst Covid-19)
    • Training in the use of engineering controls, good practice, and protective equipment. Remember that engineering controls protect both the operator and other people in the workplace, while PPE only protects the wearer.

Despite all your efforts to control their exposure, some workers may still experience symptoms of ill health. It is worthwhile having a trained supervisor to look at workers’ hands for signs of dermatitis and asking about any breathing problems in case the worker needs referring to a doctor.  This is especially important when workers are exposed to dust, solvents and sheep dips that can cause health problems from long term exposure.

Other than the priority to keep everyone safe, following health and safety working practices and standards can also help to significantly reduce the number of accidents in your business, explains Paul Graham, Managing Director of H&H Insurance Brokers:

“It’s worth knowing that awareness of and a culture of robust health and safety practices will not only keep the number of incidents and severity of claims down, but it can in turn help lessen any insurance premium increases for your business.  Seeking expert advice when looking at your insurance needs is always advisable, even beyond the pandemic.”