In Barbados some agricultural workers habitually wear inappropriate "protective" gear while working with chemicals.
This practice is so commonplace that most Barbadians may easily recall seeing persons wearing scarves around their nose and mouth while spraying crops.?? Many nationals can also attest to having seen some agricultural workers on the job without shirts, and even a few of them in the field wearing slippers instead of boots.
Such practices offer little or no protection against the inhalation of chemicals; furthermore workers are exposed unnecessarily to risks and hazards that may compromise their health.??
Safety and Health Officer at the Labour Department, Kerryann Branford, warned that these unsafe methods should be curtailed for the sake of the island’s agricultural sector.
In a paper entitled Maintaining Health and Safety in the Use of Agrochemicals, Ms. Branford stated: "To ensure the sustainability of the agricultural sector in Barbados, it is necessary that high safety and health standards are achieved and maintained for all persons involved in the agricultural industry."??
She further explained that under the Factories Act and the soon-to-be-proclaimed Safety and Health at Work (SHaW) Act, an employer was required to "take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of his or her employees".
Calling for the correct and appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE), the Safety and Health Officer pointed out that under the SHaW Act it was the employer’s duty to provide PPE and to ensure it was used correctly.
"Personal protective equipment or PPE are those things persons would wear to protect themselves from hazardous substances or conditions.?? While measures should be put in place to eliminate hazards within the workplace, there are some situations where risks are involved and in those instances PPE must be worn.?? Chemical handling is one such occasion on which PPE should be worn," she explained.
"Employees also have a responsibility [to protect themselves]; it is their duty to correctly wear and use any personal protective device or clothing that has been provided," Ms. Branford clarified.
Under the SHaW Act, if an employee fails to correctly wear and use personal protective clothing and devices, that person could be fined $500, imprisoned for one month, or both.
Employers too could face penalties under the law.?? If an employer fails to provide PPE or fails to train his or her workers to correctly use and maintain that equipment and gear, then the employer is guilty of an offence.?? In that instance, a fine of $500 is liable, but if the breach persists after conviction then the employer is liable to a further fine of $100 for each day that the offence continues.
In the unfortunate event of death or permanent injury, the employer is liable to a fine of $5,000 imprisonment for 12 months, or both.
According to Ms. Branford, the promotion of safe and responsible chemical use is one way to accomplish safety and health within the agricultural sector.??
Noting that chemicals could have "detrimental effects on human health", she stressed that incorrect use of hazardous substances could significantly impact the skin, respiratory, reproductive and central nervous systems.
"Chemicals in solid form may cause toxic effects on health if they get onto the skin, if they are ingested or the vapours inhaled.?? Many chemicals are found in liquid form too, and these may be absorbed into the skin and in some instances, liquids may pass directly through the skin into the bloodstream.?? This can have a detrimental effect on the body’s organs," the Safety and Health Officer reported.
As a result, the official noted that PPE was extremely important and so was the maintenance of such property.?? "…Efforts must be made to ensure that the PPE selected fits each worker properly and is worn correctly whenever the individual is handling the chemical.
"Regular examination of PPE is necessary to make sure that gear and equipment are in good working order prior to use and when wear and tear is noticed the gear …should be discontinued and should be promptly replaced," Ms. Branford advised.
Moreover, she cautioned that the correct storage of PPE was imperative because some conditions caused deterioration of equipment such as extremes of temperature and moist conditions which could both reduce the quality of some PPE.
"PPE should be stored in an area which is separate from the hazardous substance’s storage area.?? That area should also be cleaned before and after use," she emphasised.
The Safety and Health Officer noted that the draft agricultural policy: Occupational Safety and Health Guidelines for the Agricultural Sector provided information on numerous aspects of occupational safety and health for the industry and included a section on the sound management of chemicals.
Ms. Branford also stressed that the Labour Department was always willing to provide information to persons and businesses on maintaining high standards of occupational safety and health in Barbados.