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Pesticides are hazardous chemicals that present a risk to health if precautions are not taken. Pesticides are a group of chemicals including herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.

Common pesticides include:

  • glyphosate
  • paraquat
  • organophosphates
  • pyrethrin.

As with all hazardous chemicals, particularly those that may cause cancer, worker exposure must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable.

This includes minimising:

  • skin contact
  • breathing in vapour and mists
  • accidental ingestion through poor hand hygiene.

Exposure to herbicides and pesticides may cause short and long term health effects. Check the safety data sheet (SDS) for each product for details about possible harmful health effects.

Short term health effects may include:

  • irritation to skin, eyes, nose or throat
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea
  • headache
  • in severe cases, loss of consciousness, extreme weakness, seizures or death.

Long term health effects may include:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • asthma or other respiratory illnesses
  • cancers including leukaemia and non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

You must obtain the SDS for the herbicide or pesticide being used. An SDS provides more comprehensive health risk and safe handling information when compared with the product label. Workers, especially those involved in decanting and diluting concentrated or full-strength products, must follow all safe use instructions in the SDS.

Minimise the exposure of workers to herbicides and pesticides by:

  • obtaining the SDS for hazardous chemicals
  • understanding and following all the safety instructions on the SDS
  • using engineering, isolation or substitution as the primary control measures, particularly for decanting and diluting tasks
  • providing personal protective equipment (PPE) or respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to use in combination with higher order controls
  • ensuring respirators have the appropriate particulate and/or vapour filter ( if you need assistance with this talk to your PPE supplier)
  • fit testing tight-fitting respirators for each worker who is required to wear one
  • providing all workers, including mobile workers, with adequate means for good personal hygiene such as hand washing facilities
  • training workers in the use of the product and in using any measures that are needed to minimise exposure.

Health monitoring may be required where there is significant risk to workers’ health because of exposure to pesticides such as organophosphates.

Further information

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) controls and regulates pesticides and herbicides. For more information about the APVMA and its position on glyphosate visit

Last updated
17 October 2019

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