Farmers are subject to particular health risks, the main ones being accidental risks (machines…), physical constraints (noise, vibrations…), plant protection products, respiratory problems, biological agents and psychosocial risks (suicide).
The handling of chemicals by farmers is undoubtedly an important activity of their profession and we will be particularly interested in personal protective equipment to protect their health.
The risks involved
Farmers handle chemicals such as plant protection products or simply formaldehyde used as a disinfectant in some farms.
Chemicals can be in solid (powder, granules…), liquid, or gaseous form.
The access ways
the respiratory route, by inhalation of dust, fumes, gases, vapours;
the digestive tract, by accidental ingestion of a product or by indirect contact, by putting dirty hands in the mouth;
the dermal route: they can cause direct damage to the skin (redness, burns, irritation…). Many products can enter the bloodstream after passing through the skin. This method of contamination, too little known, creates very serious intoxications when the product attaches itself to vital organs (liver, spleen…) or certain tissues (nervous, fatty).
Some products may be responsible for allergic reactions: after initial contact causing “sensitization”, subsequent repeated contact may cause allergic reactions, often to the skin, sometimes to the respiratory system.
Plant protection products
They refer to products used to control plant diseases and pests in order to preserve productivity. They are grouped into several classes (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, acaricides…).
Only products with the MA (marketing authorisation) are authorised for manufacture, marketing and use in France.
Each commercial specialty is authorized for: a type of crop, a type of pest, disease, weed, rate of use and application conditions. One of the best known is glyphosate, but chlordecone is also mentioned overseas.
The difficulty in establishing the link between exposure and disease is the existence of a latency period between exposure and the onset of the disease.
However, Inserm has been able to demonstrate the strong link between exposure to plant protection products and the development of cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. In addition, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified many pesticides as probably carcinogenic to humans.
The most common types of cancers cited in the studies were brain cancer, multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer), soft tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and leukemias. With regard to neurodegenerative diseases, exposure to pesticides may be at the origin of the development of Parkinson’s disease. These products can also cause infertility. Phytosanitary products cause 2% of occupational diseases among farmers, but this figure is certainly below reality.
The use of chemicals by farmers
There is a tendency to think that farmers are only exposed to chemicals during plant processing, but they can also be contaminated during the preparation of mixtures, filling or emptying tanks, cleaning equipment, and re-entry into the treated crops. Many people think that the toxicity of the products is mainly pulmonary, but in reality, the main mode of contamination is through the skin, which results in the under-use of skin protection equipment and hygiene rules.
Major efforts are being made to develop alternatives to pesticides and in particular for the release of glyphosate, but in the meantime, strict application protocols aimed at protecting professionals but also local residents are being applied and in particular, farmers are therefore strongly encouraged to wear personal protective equipment to protect both the skin covering and the lungs.
It is possible to contract a zoonosis which is an infection of animal origin transmissible to humans such as brucellosis, Lyme borreliosis, tick-borne encephalitis, Q fever, ringworms…
These infections affect workers through direct contact (animal handling, care, milking, etc.) or indirect contact (cleaning, manure management, etc.). They are poorly assessed, underestimated and under-reported by farmers.
It is estimated that ¾ agricultural assets are exposed to these biological agents.
More than 10% of farmers suffer from a respiratory disease (chronic or acute). This includes dust and exposure to chemicals. They are characterized by a persistent cough, shortness of breath, fever, a cold that lasts forever…
Two diseases are characteristic of the agricultural world:
– Farmer’s lung disease due to chronic inhalation of Micropolyspora faeni or Thermoactinomyces vulgaris found in hay, straw, mouldy cereals. Type III hypersensitivity to inhaled antigens develops;
– Bird breeders’ disease: it is also a type III hypersensitivity in which the inhaled antigen is a protein contained in bird droppings.
The handling of plant protection products requires technical conditions and regulatory obligations for proper use from purchase to waste management. These measures include “the physical protection of users”. It is mandatory. The handler must have the following PPE: gloves, dry suit, boots, mask with glasses.
Hands are the main route of contamination, by direct or indirect penetration (contact with the mouth or eyes). While they constitute only 5% of the skin’s surface area, they alone represent 60 to 80% of contacts with products. The appropriate gloves are nitrile or neoprene.
Eye and lung protection
Especially during the preparation of the spray mixture because the products are concentrated. Protection must be compatible with eyeglasses and the use of a respirator.
The body must be protected with a chemical-tight suit with a minimum type 4 level of protection. Its size must be adapted to the individual’s body shape. It must be removed at the end of the work so as not to transfer any chemical product. The feet must also be protected by waterproof nitrile boots.
Some single-use waterproof plastic suits are uncomfortable as much as it can be, especially in hot weather. Rather fragile they must be changed and discarded as soon as they are soiled. Even if the price of such equipment is not high, having to change it frequently and destroy it can appear to be unecological and finally relatively expensive.
Polyagri® from Ouvry protects against plant protection agents in liquid, vapour and aerosol form. It is CE certified, PPE category III. It is recommended in agricultural activities with a tractor without cab, with a lance, with a track, with a backpack sprayer and in mechanical spraying. It meets the liquid chemical protection standards (EN 13034+A1), EN 17491-4 cabin tests as well as the repulsion standard for plant protection agents (>90%) (ISO 22608 Prowl 3.3 EC and ISO 27065 version 2017 performance requirements for protective clothing worn by operators applying pesticides and return workers.
Consisting of a filter liner containing activated carbon microbeads that retain toxic products, it makes it possible to work in hot environments, even confined as in greenhouses, without causing heat stroke. It is lightweight and allows you to work comfortably for long periods of time (> 30 minutes).
Its duration of use is 100 hours within the limit of one year. It is washable and can withstand 10 maintenance cycles.
The OPC50 respiratory protection mask can be used in conjunction with it.
It should also be noted that the DES’DEC product is an effective cleaning and decontamination solution for plant protection agents and will be useful in cleaning operations. The solution is also active on biological agents and will therefore be able to thoroughly disinfect premises containing allergens responsible for farmer’s lung disease and bird farmer’s disease.
Plant protection products are dangerous to health: they have been linked to cancers, neurodegenerative diseases and infertility. Therefore, all activities using phytosanitary products: transport, handling, storage, dosage, preparation, mixing, spraying, maintenance, care, cleaning, must be carried out with skin and respiratory protection using PPE.
Protection against biological agents is also essential.