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Safety around sprayers

A formula for chemical safety

Australian farms are among the most dangerous workplaces in the country. There were 63 on-farm deaths in 2016 (farmsafe.org.au), and behind that shocking figure lies a largely uncounted number of non-fatal accidents.

It’s easy to appreciate the dangers of machinery and quad bikes. However agrichemicals are also a significant threat to safety, right through their transport, storage, preparation, application and clean-up stages.

More importantly, with many farms also being family homes, there’s the added danger of kids and pets coming into contact with chemicals that are stored, carried inside on clothing, or introduced into your drinking water, home grown fruit and veg, etc, through drift.

A simple way to approach chemical safety is to use the same precautions you do for transporting and storing your firearms. In other words make sure they’re kept stable and safe during transport, and store them in

or choose a patch of non-productive grass that will catch and hold any chemical or wash water until it breaks down.

Once you’ve emptied a chemical container, rinse it out at least three times and empty the rinse solution into the induction hopper as well. Finally, seal each empty, rinsed container and store it just like your full ones until it can be properly disposed of.

To return to the firearms analogy, treat every container as if it’s ‘loaded’ even when you’re ‘sure’ it isn’t.

It’s a good idea to only add chemical to your sprayer tank once you reach the paddock. That saves you transporting a tankful of active chemical, which could go wrong in all kinds of ways. Carry the chemical you’ll need in a stable and secure locker on the sprayer, tractor or support ute.

Either way, make sure you leave the sprayer pump off until you’re about to

“It is frighteningly easy for your partner, children or pets to come into contact with traces of chemical...”

a secure, specially dedicated place. That might be a separate locked shed, a secure room or even a locked steel mesh ‘cage’ inside your shed.

Choose your ground

Surprisingly, one of the fundamental aspects of farm chemical safety isn’t the chemicals or their containers at all – it’s the ground underneath. You may never spill some chemical or have a container leak on you, but you’d be in the minority.

So ideally, you’ll be able to store and transfer your chemicals on a concrete area with no danger of any runoff reaching your waterways. You should also keep a clean-up kit handy (including absorbent granules or something similar, plastic sacks and a shovel) so any spills can be contained and disposed of in a controlled way.

The next best option is a level grassed or compacted area that will catch and hold any spilled chemical long enough for the active compounds to be broken down.

Remember that flushing or diluting with water is only an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to chemical clean-ups. Full sunlight is probably the safest and most powerful deactivating agent around. Plus its free and there’s plenty of it.

Take care around water

To protect your clean water supply, a dedicated source of spraying water is the best option. If that’s not possible make sure you keep the end of the water supply hose at least 10cm above the rim of the filling hole, so there’s no danger of water siphoning back. And never leave the sprayer unattended while it’s filling.

Add your chemical on a hard level surface so you can clean up any spills,

start spraying, so the system isn’t under pressure until you need it to be. You should never do any kind of maintenance with pressure in the fluid system either, or (as far as possible) while there’s chemical in the tank.

Cleaning up

When it comes to cleaning out the sprayer at the end of the job, the first step is to accurately calibrate your system before you put chemical into it. That way, you’ll keep any residual to a minimum.

Safely rinsing out and washing down your sprayer is basically the same as handling active chemicals, and the same safety precautions apply. Most importantly, choose the ground carefully so the rinse water can be sprayed or emptied out safely.

You may be able to spray it onto an area of your crop without over dosing – otherwise you’ll need that same kind of ‘catch and contain’ grass area where any residual chemicals can get broken down in the sun and soil.

You’re part of the equipment too

And finally, don’t forget YOU’RE part of the equipment too. Given your next stop will often be your family’s home, you want to be extra careful about cleaning and/or disposing of your PPE properly.

It is frighteningly easy for your partner, children or pets to come into contact with traces of chemical on a pair of your gloves, pants or boots.

Agrichemicals are a vital part of crop protection. They help maximise the land’s productivity for better farm and food security. However, that protection should never come at a risk to farms, farmers, or families. So take your chemical safety seriously.

You can read more about sprayer safety on the HARDI website, here.