1663b Reducing workers exposures to highly hazardous pesticides with the hierarchy of control: labels failure to communicate safety behaviours

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Abstract

‘Misuse’ of pesticides by agricultural workers assumes that these workers have access to the relevant risk information, are able to read the information, and are able to comprehend and apply this information. The main source of risk, health and safety information for workers is the pesticide label. Research conducted with South African farm workers highlights that health and safety label information is often not noticed and mis-interpreted from the expert intended meanings since workers have limited access to comprehension mechanisms. The Globally Haromonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) has been presented as a mechanism for improving label comprehension, but so far research has indicated that label information (e.g., in the form of icons/pictograms and colour codes) despite being harmonised is not understood to provoke the intended safety behaviours. With label information being a poor risk communication vehicle, it is argued that the Hierarchy of Control (HoC), originating from occupational hygiene, should be applied to the use of pesticides and for protecting the health and safety of workers to reduce hazardous exposures. The stages of the HoC are presented (i.e., elimination, substitution, engineering, administrative, behaviour and personal protective equipment) in order of effectiveness for protecting workers and examples applied. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), in conjunction with the WHO, are promoting the identification and management of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs). The eight criteria for identifying HHPs appear to be an effective approach to eliminating pesticides too hazardous for workers unable to understand label information to be exposed to. ‘Misuse’ of pesticides, it is argued, should therefore be referred to as ‘unintended uses’ to avoid blaming workers who do not have access to risk, health and safety information (i.e., right-to-know) and/or are unable to interpret the messages as scientifically intended (i.e., ‘right-to-comprehend’).

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