2012-06-26 Farming – dangerous or deadly? Research will tell

Twenty-six Western Victorian farms will provide the blueprint for measuring the true dangers in running a modern cropping enterprise.

A SafeWork project being run by New Zealand’s Massey University and Hamilton-based National Centre for Farmer Health will examine and measure exposures in a farming environment.

NCFH Acting Director, Cate Mercer-Grant says the National Centre for Farmer Health has recently done some pioneering on-farm work in hearing, using state-of-the-art equipment to measure virtually every part of a farmer’s day on the job.

And says the opportunity to partner Massey University will be an “exciting next stage” in delivering quality support services to farming families, not just in Victoria but around Australia.

“This is what NCFH is all about – from its management of the Sustainable Farm Families program to the presentation of products such as agri-health courses in conjunction with Deakin University,” Cate Mercer-Grant says.

“There is a lot of synergy between the work we do and the development of this holistic approach to assessing the potential risks for the agricultural community,” she says.

“It is absolutely essential, and overdue, work and NCFH, in its leadership position in looking after the health, safety and wellbeing of farming families is the perfect fit for the job.”

“I am very pleased that Massey University has contracted the NCFH to undertake this project at an important time during the centre’s short history and we look forward to working with their staff “she said.

Project principal investigator Mark Wagstaffe says the research is aiming to determine the level of exposure to hazards – from dust and noise to UV rays and chemicals.

Mark says testing will be run in real time – “capturing exposure data every minute” – with results being automatically downloaded to a laptop with matching video.

“We aim to determine if these exposures can lead to adverse health effects,” Mark says.

“Testing for these exposures will be carried out by trained and highly experienced health professionals,” he says.

“As there are a number of pathways for chemical exposures for example, by breathing them in or direct contact, we will be using dermal patches to get an exact outcome of the effects of herbicide and insecticide chemicals.”

While neither the researchers or farmers can control the seasons in which they work, Mark says getting an accurate picture of the role UVA and UVB, as well as temperature, plays in the lives of farmers, their families and farm workers is vital.

“We will also be looking for common peaks of exposure, for example, where we may be able to come up with low-cost intervention which will have some positive long-term outcomes,” he adds.

“While there has been work done in most of these areas, nothing has been done in combination, and in real time, so this will be incredibly valuable research once it is all put together and our report is written.

“The team at Massey have been doing this type of work in a variety of industries, and some of them, such as wood dust in the timber industry and fumigants in containers shipping, have a lot of important parallels,” Mark says.

“The chance for us to work alongside the team at NCFH is also a plus because these people have done some cutting-edge work across the agricultural and rural communities and their input will be invaluable.”

The report and its recommendations are to be delivered to SafeWork by May 31 next year.

Massey University visits the NCFH

Photo (attached):  L to R Western District Health Service CEO Jim Fletcher  with Tiz Harding and Mark Wagstaffe Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University

Further details are available from Cate Mercer-Grant, National Centre for Farmer Health, on (03) 5551 8533 and Mark Wagstaffe, Massey University, on 64-4-801-5799 or email M.Wagstaffe@massey.ac.nz