Staying Safe When Spraying

As Spring turns to Summer, tillage and crop farmers turn their attention to spraying season. Farmers may be concerned by a number of factors outside their control including changes in climate, ground conditions and availability of product. However, one area that they can be sure of is health and safety and ensuring that they are adhering to all recommended guidelines.

Firstly, farmers should look at their own time management. Do they have the time to carry out the task without rushing or being panicked? Research from the HSA shows that from 2011 -2020 43% of fatalities occurred from tractors/vehicles. Of that percentage, almost a quarter was crushed or trapped. Spraying is highly mechanised and can be considered a high-risk activity. Care needs to be taken when carrying out tasks with tractors and farmers should consider hiring a contractor if they feel under pressure.

Before starting, it is important to carry out a thorough check of your tractor and machine. Follow the operator’s manual check for any loose parts, cracks, rust, or any visible issues with the machine. Don’t forget to check the oil and ensure machines are fully greased.

Also, under Irish legislation, all sprayers that are over 5 years old and have a boom width of >3m and /or chard/blast sprayers must be tested. Sprayers must be tested by a registered inspector. Tests completed before January 1st 2020 are valid for 5 years and tests carried out after this date are valid for a 3 year period. If a sprayer needs to be tested, it should be done in advance of starting farm work.

When mounting a sprayer, farmers need to take extra caution. It is important that the spreader or sprayer is positioned on a stable base. The farmer must engage with the hand break and use quick attach mechanisms where present. Tractor controls should only be used when people are known to be safely outside crush zones.

In terms of the product being used, farmers must be aware of the potential dangers. Avoid direct contact with products, especially the skin and eyes. Also, be aware of splashing, spilling, leaks, spray drift, and contamination of clothing. Do not eat, drink, chew or smoke when using pesticides. Farmers should wear suitable PPE gear including gloves and a face covering.

Worryingly, Irish Water’s public water supply monitoring programme detected there were 81 pesticide exceedances in public drinking water supplies in Ireland in 2020. This is an increase of 5 from 2019. Irish Water also noted MCPA is still the most commonly detected pesticide in drinking water sources. MCPA is an active substance present in many commonly used herbicide products used to control the growth of thistles, docks and rushes.

When carrying out spraying, farmers should plan around the weather forecast. Spraying should be done at a time when wind velocity is low. Farmers should also pay attention to wind direction and ensure that no spray drift could damage other ground or water supplies. 

Lastly, storing sprays correctly is an essential practice on every farm. Read all labels and ensure they are being kept correctly. Chemicals should be stored in a secure, dry shed with a lock and appropriate safety signage. Do not let others, especially children, have access to the shed. If you wish to use the container again, triple rinse and remove the foil cap and dispose of in accordance with the Good Practice Guide for Empty Pesticide Containers.

Users, advisors, and distributers of agricultural pesticides must be certified. In some cases, farmers or operators who might have received training at college, or via Teagasc, may be eligible for certification without attending a course. Contact the Department of Agriculture to check. If training is required, FRS Training delivers Boom and Handheld Spraying courses under the aegis of QQI. This two-day course has both theory and practical elements.

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