The Dangers Of Workplace Exposure To Pesticides

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Pesticides are often used to protect plants against diseases and pests which can affect their commercial viability. Pesticides are also used to stop the growth of weeds which can have an impact on the function or aesthetic of, for example, a golf course or garden. As such, pesticides are widely used in Australia, with over 8,000 pesticide products – including more than 80 which are banned in other countries – available for use.

Globally, the production of pesticides increases by around 11% per year, and in the year 2000, more than five million tonnes of pesticides were produced.

Which industries have the most exposure to pesticides?

Agricultural workers and workers in the pesticide manufacturing industry are the most at risk of exposure to pesticides. Other workers who have exposure to pesticides include:

  • gardeners, landscapers and orchardists; and
  • groundskeepers (such as golf course keepers).

What medical conditions can be caused by workplace exposure to pesticides?

There is strong evidence to suggest that there is a correlation between workplace exposure to pesticides in Australia and the development of chronic diseases including:

  • asthma;
  • Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s;
  • autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus;
  • cardiovascular diseases;
  • several types of cancer, such as lymphoma, lung cancer, leukaemia, brain cancer, skin cancer, bowel cancer and prostate cancer;
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and
  • diabetes.

In addition, exposure to pesticides can cause short-term health ailments which can have a negative impact on a person’s day-to-day life and their ability to work, including headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and skin, eye, nose or throat irritation if the pesticides get on the skin or are inhaled.

Pesticide exposure can also cause weakness, seizures, a loss of consciousness or even death in the most severe cases.

How can workers protect themselves against the harmful effects of pesticides?

Workers, particularly those who deal with the decanting or dilution of full-strength and concentrated products should minimise their exposure and risk of harm by:

  • ensuring they have access to a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) which will provide them with a comprehensive guide to the health risks associated with using pesticides as well as information on how to handle them safely;
  • ensuring they understand and follow all the recommended safety instructions outlined in the SDS;
  • adhering to safe practices for decanting and diluting the pesticides;
  • wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), including respiratory protective equipment when working with or around pesticides;
  • where respiratory protective equipment (such as respirators) are used, ensuring they are fitted to the wearer properly and have the relevant filter installed; and
  • washing hands thoroughly after handling pesticides, even when using PPE such as gloves.

Employers should provide all workers who deal with pesticides with the protective wear and equipment they need to carry out their jobs without harm and information on how to handle the products safely and how to seek assistance if health concerns arise.

What should I do if I become unwell after using pesticides at work?

If you have developed a health concern due to workplace exposure to pesticides you may be entitled to workers compensation. You should speak to a personal injury lawyer who can assess your personal circumstances and help you make an informed decision about whether you would like to commence a compensation claim. You may be entitled to a lump sum payment or be able to recoup lost earnings and medical expenses. If you are in this position, our experienced personal injury lawyers in Cairns can assist.