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Safety First When Spraying

Pesticides and herbicides provide agriculture with significant benefits, controlling pests and diseases and allowing us to produce better crops and higher yields.

Unsafe use of these chemicals however, can risk health and even life and cause extensive damage to the environment through pollution of land and water and harm to non-target organisms.

So safety first is paramount when spraying, something which is reinforced by chemical manufacturers on their own labels and through government and EPA guidelines and regulations.

These regulations infer a common law ‘duty of care’ on those who use chemicals to store, transport, apply and dispose of them in a safe manner.

The first instance where caution is required is when the chemicals are mixed prior to spraying. Many pesticides contain harmful toxins which can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, so operator hygiene is very important.

Always wear suitable protective clothing when handling chemicals, including gloves and a mask where necessary. Always wash thoroughly after spraying or whenever any chemicals come in contact with your skin.

Always read the manufacturers’ labels thoroughly. These should tell you everything you need to know about the chemical’s ingredients, toxicity, handling methods and mixing ratios.

Commercial pesticide users also need to be in possession of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each pesticide they are using. These are prepared by the manufacturer and contain the physical, chemical and biological breakdown of the pesticide and any potential hazards involved with its use.

Some best practice tips when handling and mixing pesticides are:

  • Always mix outdoors
  • Wash clothing separate from other laundry
  • Do not smoke, eat or drink when handling pesticides
  • Have regular blood tests if handling pesticides frequently
  • Always keep pesticides under lock and key
  • Always store pesticides in their original containers.

The next stage, spraying, is equally important in terms of safety. You need to keep accurate records of what you spray, how much, where, how often and in what kind of weather conditions. These records may be required by government or EPA inspectors.

Always be aware of adjacent crops or grazing pastures when spraying. Do not contaminate these with spray drift and do not allow animals to graze where you have just sprayed.

Observe all manufacturers’ instructions regarding re-entry times. Sprayed areas must be posted and other workers prevented from entering unless wearing suitable protective clothing.

Drift is always a potential problem when spraying. Ways to minimise the risk of spray drift include:

  • Note sensitive areas when spraying such as housing or waterways and always notify your neighbours before spraying.
  • Monitor weather conditions and don’t spray if conditions are unsuitable.
  • Supervise spraying, even when done by a contractor or employee
  • Always maintain at least a boom’s width from the downwind edge of the area being sprayed.
  • Select a nozzle that will give you the largest droplet size, while still providing suitable coverage.
  • Always have the boom at the lowest practical height
  • Always operate within the recommended pressure range
  • Limit the size of any area sprayed at one time, as the longer the application time the more likely weather conditions are to change.

Correct calibration of equipment is also vital for accuracy, so do the maths and adjust accordingly before spraying.

Maintaining your spray equipment in good working order reduces innacuracy and the likelihood of a chemical accident. This involves checking equipment regularly for wear (filter, nozzle, ball valve etc) and replacing worn parts if needed. Nozzle wear is the most frequent and depends on factors such as the material it is made from, the kinds of chemicals being sprayed and the operating pressure of the sprayer.

Equipment should also be serviced regularly, particularly hoses and pumps. Australia has expert service providers in every state.

Pesticides and herbicides have many benefits, but it’s vitally important that those benefits outweigh the costs. That means minimising the risks associated with their use as much as possible and fostering a culture of safety first amongst all users.

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