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Growing concern at pesticide hazards

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has released new guidance on pesticides and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has released a review of glyphosate use.

Pesticides, including herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, are hazardous chemicals and are a health risk if safety precautions are not taken.

Common pesticides include:

  • glyphosate
  • paraquat
  • organophosphates
  • pyrethrin.

As with all hazardous chemicals, particularly those which may cause cancer, worker exposure must be minimised, including skin contact, breathing in vapour and mists, and accidental ingestion through poor hand hygiene. Exposure to herbicides and pesticides may cause serious health problems, so check each product's safety data sheet for possible harmful health effects.

Short term health effects may include:

  • irritation to skin, eyes, nose or throat
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea
  • headache
  • 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.

It is important to get a copy of the safety data sheet (SDS) for the herbicide or pesticide being used. An SDS provides comprehensive health and handling information compared with the product label. It is important all workers, especially those involved in decanting and diluting concentrated or full-strength products, follow all safe use instructions in the SDS.

Minimise the exposure of workers to herbicides and pesticides by:

  • obtaining the SDS for hazardous chemicals used
  • 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 (PDF, 0.86 MB) tight-fitting respirators for each worker who is required to wear one
  • providing all workers, including mobile workers, with personal hygiene facilities
  • training workers to use the product and minimise exposure.

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

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 apvma.gov.au

Further information

Download our guidance on pesticides at worksafe.qld.gov.au.