Protecting your workers from Hazardous Substances

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Farmers often work with hazardous products like sprays and fertilisers. What is used and how often varies across farms and seasons. For many, February jobs include pre-autumn crop spraying and fertiliser spreading.

Exposure to these substances may not have an immediate effect on your health but the harm can become evident 25 to 30 years down the track when it might be too late to prevent the serious consequences that may arise.

Knowing how to handle hazardous substances will make a difference to how they impact on your health. The new regulations that came in on 1st December last year promote safer management of hazardous substances at work for employers, workers and others.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to check you’re doing things right on your farm. If you were up to speed with the old rules, there won’t be much to do. Here are 10 steps farmers can take to help meet the new requirements.

  1. Keep an inventory. Create an inventory of hazardous substances used, handled and stored on the farm. Inventories are now mandatory. WorkSafe’s Hazardous Substances Toolbox website includes a workbook with tips, checklists and a downloadable inventory form. You can also use the toolkit’s calculator to create and edit an online inventory.
  2. Use – and share – safety data sheets. These record key information about hazardous substances, e.g. its properties, correct storage, what personal protective equipment is needed and first aid information. The sheets must be easily available to anyone likely to be exposed to a substance, including in an emergency. Your suppliers can give you data safety sheets.
  3. Conduct a risk assessment. Think about the hazardous substances you work with – can you substitute any for a safer product? Controls set out in the regulations must now be used for any hazardous substances you keep. Remember to dispose of any products you no longer need through Agrecovery.
  4. Inform and train your workers. You must give workers who are using or affected by use of hazardous substances appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision to work safely.
  5. Emergency preparedness. For most substances, the new rules require you to create a plan outlining how you will deal with an emergency at your workplace (e.g. someone is poisoned or burnt, a fire breaks out or there’s a leak).
  6. Correctly label hazardous substances containers, including hazardous waste. Label containers so people know what’s inside and what to do to stay safe. Manufacturers and suppliers must correctly label their products – and anyone using it must make sure the label stays fixed to the container and is legible.
  7. Install warning signs. Place signs where hazardous substances are used and stored, e.g. at entrances to the property, the building and rooms where they are located. These let your workers and visitors know they must take care and alert emergency services to what substances are on-site if there’s an incident. Signs are available from hardware stores, or your local Farmlands store.
  8. Keep storage areas and containers are safe. Store only what’s needed, keep incompatible substances apart, use containers appropriate for the substance and label everything clearly.
  9. Take care with hazardous waste. Dispose of hazardous substances safely and appropriately. Read the safety data sheet and contact the local council for disposal advice. Agrecovery provides an agrichemicals disposal service.
  10. Provide protective gear. You must ensure workers handling hazardous substances have suitable protective clothing that fits properly and that they know how to use and maintain it correctly.

WorkSafe’s website has information and its online Toolbox has tools to help –

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