Every year farmers and farm workers come in contact with a wide variety of chemicals. Often they’re used every season and farmers can become familiar with them, even a bit complacent about the dangers they pose.
Each chemical will have an information sheet and information tag. All chemicals and medications have Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and Medical Material Data Sheets (MMSDS). They’re available for free download or from your chemical dealer or veterinarian. These sheets are important asw they tell you about the dangers of the chemicals and medications you use every day on the farm.
Handling chemicals requires orientation and proper equipment, more importantly it requires a commitment to using them safely, as well as safely storing and cleaning up after use. Improper handling, storage and disposal can impact more than your personal health, it can damage equipment, contaminate water sources and soil.
Become familiar with the placards and warnings each chemical carries — understand what they mean and prepare your equipment for handling and train your staff to be safe. As a farm owner or manager you are responsible for training and orienting people to the safe use and handling, storage and disposal of chemicals and veterinary medicines. This responsibility includes the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). This can include face masks, impermeable gloves, overalls or other recommended gear. The proper use of PPE can protect from exposure but only in conjunction with proper training and orientation.
Often chemical companies and veterinary professionals will provide training workshops and safety training. It is in their interests that you handle their materials safely. But on your own farm and in your own barn you can take steps to provide for the health and safety of your people, farm and prevent costly waste or spoilage.
Chemical safety tips
Some tips to keep in mind:
- Always store chemicals and veterinary medicines in the manner which the manufacturer has indicated. Don’t use non approved containers, store in areas where there is a danger of puncture, freezing, leaking or contact with animals or children.
- Never mix or use chemicals in ways that are not recommended by the manufacturer.
- Don’t mix chemicals or use chemicals that are past their expiry date. Return them to a safe disposal site.
- Follow directions for the time span between application and field re-entry. Same applies for livestock medications — note and follow withdrawal times accurately.
- Do not allow children to handle or mix chemicals — no matter how helpful they are as farm hands, their health is important.
- Do not allow people to use chemicals or applicators before they are properly trained in their use.
- Ensure all applicators and mixers are in good working order by testing and inspecting before actual use. Check all hoses, gauges, wires, containers and make sure everything in good working order before use.
- Plan ahead to ensure you have done your safety checks before you need to start your season — plan ahead for safety
If anyone comes into contact with a chemical or veterinary medicine, take a photo of the label with your cell phone, read the emergency treatment notes, call 9-1-1 or transport to the hospital. Call poison control and have the MSDS/MMSDS sheet available for the emergency medical workers. Isolate the area of contact and document. Make notes on how the contact happened. If there is a spill, contain or clean up safely.
It is important to have your staff familiar with the chemicals they are working with, and understand the steps they need to take to be safe. They also should be aware of the hazards posed by those chemicals and the potential long term impacts on their health. Be sure you have first aid training, and do chemical safety training each season.
The investment in safety pays off every time you don’t have lost time due to spills, injuries or improper handling of chemicals or materials.
Watch for health dangers
Chemicals and veterinary medicines can be absorbed into the human body through a number of avenues — including accidental injection or ingestion, absorption through the skin, or breathed in by mouth or nose. Some chemicals and veterinary medicines are more dangerous to women, children or those with weakened immune systems.
Treat every contact seriously and be familiar with the chemicals and veterinary medicines you use, their safe handling and track their use, storage and disposal in a record book.