Occupational health & safety

Poisons Information Centre—dial 13 11 26

Ambulance—dial 000

General information

Understanding the health risks and legal requirements associated with the use of agricultural and veterinary chemicals can avoid serious consequences. Always first refer to the label (indications) and carefully follow all of the directions for storage, application and disposal of chemicals/ chemical containers.

The following information is a guide to the safe use of worm drenches, lousicides, fly treatments and tickacides (acaricides). Only general information is provided and all managers and workers who will be responsible for applying chemicals should attend a Farm Chemical Users course and have read and understood the information provided on the labels of chemicals they intend using. The legislation regarding Chemical Accreditation varies for each state in Australia.

How exposure to chemicals occurs during treatment

Direct exposure occurs in four main ways:

  • Dermal or skin exposure when chemical comes into direct contact with exposed skin, or where chemical soaks through clothing, or from handling recently treated stock.
  • Oral ingestion, most often by handling food without first washing hands or drinking from a water bottle that may have been contaminated with chemical.
  • Inhalation of chemical fumes, particularly when mixing concentrate, or inhaling aerosol droplets formed during treatment of cattle.
  • Needle stick wounds associated with used needles for injection

Appropriate precautions should be taken to minimise the risk of exposure to chemicals by these routes.

Effect of application method on potential exposure

If used according to label directions, oral, injectable, pour-on, and ear tag applications generally pose the least risk of inadvertent chemical exposure. Preparation and application of dipping fluid for use on cattle carries the highest risk. Dipping requires an excellent working knowledge and experience with the dipping process. Knowledge and training in safe chemical use is necessary for safety of both animals and workers when operating the dip.

Exposure is minimised by wearing appropriate PPE and using care while handling chemical concentrate to avoid spills and inhalation from chemical volatilisation. Use of correct PPE further avoids inhalation of aerosolised chemical from proximity to the dip bath, and skin exposure to splashes and drips. Watch out for leaking backpacks or application guns and incorrect disposal of used needles.

With hand spraying, close proximity of the operator to the spray wand and treated cattle presents a significant risk from deflected sprays and inhalation of aerosol droplets.

With plunge dips, the main risk is during mixing of the dip wash and splashing from cattle as they enter and leave the dip. Standing too close to penned cattle that shake after leaving the dip and handling wet or recently treated cattle are other means of exposure.

Beforehand:

  • Always store chemicals in the original containers and make sure the label is readable.
  • Read the Safety Data Sheet for specific information on safety and risks associated with the product you intend to use.
  • Products must be stored in a lockable shed and should only be opened and decanted outdoors in good ventilation. Children and visitors not familiar with the hazards of chemicals should not be able to access products.
  • Regularly check containers to ensure no leakage or corrosion has occurred.
  • The legislation regarding Chemical user Accreditation varies for each state in Australia. Chemical users should check requirements in their state before using chemicals.
  • Ensure you understand and have emergency procedures defined. This should include a list of emergency contact telephone numbers such as the Poisons Information Centre (131126), your local doctor and the local fire station.

Minimising risk of exposure to chemicals during use

  • Read and follow the safety direction on the label before each use, follow all of the directions for storage, application and disposal of chemicals/chemical containers.
  • Choose a product with low toxicity and a method of application that minimises operator exposure.
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing, as indicated on the label when handling the chemical or treated cattle.
  • Avoid ingestion by washing hands, arms and face with soap and water after handling chemicals and especially before eating, drinking or smoking.
  • Avoid breathing fumes or droplets from chemical concentrates or diluted solution by wearing appropriate protective clothing and a face shield when handling chemicals and treated cattle.
  • Install physical barriers (such as high, solid walls) to reduce operator exposure from dip/jetting fluid overspray.
  • Comply with the any 'Rehandling Interval' or advice before re-handling treated cattle as stated on the label.
  • Handling concentrates during mixing poses a particular safety risk. All precautions recommended on the label should be closely followed. Wear a face shield when dispensing product from the container.
  • If you spill concentrates on your clothes whilst mixing chemicals, or while treating animals, change clothes immediately.
  • Always have appropriate clean-up procedures and equipment ready in case any chemical is spilled.

Clean up after use:

  • After use wash all equipment carefully, dry and store safely.
  • Pay particular attention to label directions for cleaning backline or drench guns to maintain them in working order
  • Change your clothes when you have finished the chemical work.
  • Wash your hands and change out of protective clothing before eating, drinking or smoking.
  • Wash used product containers and dispose of them according to label instructions.

Drum muster

If the container has the drumMUSTER logo visible and has been thoroughly cleaned and dried and is free of any visible residue it can be recycled at any drumMUSTER collection site or similar container management program site. The cap should not be replaced but may be recycled separately with the container.

Figure 1. DrumMUSTER logo on chemical container.
Figure 1. DrumMUSTER logo on chemical container.

Chemical and product toxicity

All chemicals and products being applied to animals should be handled with the same degree of care and use of personal protective equipment. A systematic approach to the use and handling of chemicals reduces the risk of human exposure. For further information on individual compounds and their impact on humans and the environment select from those listed under Chemical groups and actives.

A further note on protective clothing and equipment

Although PPE is often uncomfortable, and sometimes impractical, it is important that owners/managers and their employees always wear personal protective clothing and equipment to protect against skin absorption of chemicals, and inhalation of fumes and droplets when handling and spraying products. The minimum protective clothing and equipment recommended is indicated on the product label. Often this is a cotton boiler suit (overalls) buttoned at the wrists and throat, a washable hat, a respirator or recommended disposable facemask, impervious gloves and waterproof footwear. Lightweight, comfortable spray suits are cheap and readily available. For tasks that necessitate handling wet, treated cattle, waterproof pants, gloves and boots are essential.

Training in use of Chemicals

Training in a range of chemical use courses is designed to raise the skills, knowledge and competence of agricultural and veterinary chemical users who are managing pests and weeds in the production of food and fibre, or in the broader environment.

Training in chemical use is designed to achieve a standard agreed by industry. This standard is maintained through accreditation and re-accreditation courses which are a tangible demonstration that industry can regulate itself. Accreditation is required for producer quality assurance programmes and conforms with Australia's national training standards. Each Australian state may have its own course that teaches safe use of chemicals. {e.g. SmartTrain (NSW), Auschem Training (VIC, WA), AQF3 Chemical Accreditation (QLD)}.

Legislation and regulations for chemical usage

In Australia, all agricultural and veterinary chemicals must pass through an exhaustive registration process to reach the marketplace. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is the government authority responsible for evaluation of product safety and efficacy. The APVMA will register an agricultural or veterinary chemical product once all requirements have been met by the applicant including that as well as being effective, the product is safe for humans, animals, the environment, and will not impact on international trade.

There are slight differences in emphasis in different states’ legislation relating to veterinary chemicals, but users should follow these general points:

  • Purchase and use only insecticides or veterinary chemicals that are specifically registered for use in cattle. Use them only for the purpose specified on the label.
  • Follow all label instructions including application instructions, safety directions and recommendations for disposal.
  • Observe meat withholding periods and export slaughter intervals if cattle are to be sold for slaughter after treatment.
  • Record veterinary chemical use including the batch numbers, expiry dates and withholding period. For producers accredited under the ‘Livestock Production Assurance On-Farm Quality Assurance’ (LPA QA) program complete the record-keeping template to record all veterinary chemical use (available on the MLA website). Record keeping templates are also available from Farmbiosecurity.
  • Store all insecticides or veterinary chemicals securely, safely and according to label directions.
  • It is a requirement of occupational health and safety legislation that employers exercise their duty of care by ensuring that employees who are engaged in handling and using chemicals are adequately trained and protected from exposure.
  • Report instances of suspected toxicity in animals, or operators, to state agricultural authorities or the APVMA.

Each State has legislation that directly regulates the development, sale, storage and use of agricultural and veterinary chemicals. It applies to all workplaces, including the rural workplace. In some instances, agricultural chemicals may be exempt from the specific provisions of a regulation; for further information contact the relevant government authority.

There is also an Australian standard for the Storage and Handling of Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (AS2507), with the transport of agricultural and veterinary chemicals governed by the Australian Dangerous Goods Code, usually referred to as the ADG Code.

Your ‘duty of care’

Litigation in New South Wales in the mid-1990s, resulting from the exposure of shearers during the use of chemicals on the shearing board, has made it clear that everyone working in the rural industry has a ‘duty of care’; a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace for employees. This duty of care must be demonstrated in all practices undertaken in the workplace. Attending a farm chemical safety training course and/or supporting employees to do the same is strongly recommended. Ensure you have emergency procedures defined and maintain a readily available list of emergency contact telephone numbers such as the Poisons Information Centre (131126), your local doctor and the local fire station.

Safety Data Sheets

A Safety Data Sheet, usually referred to as an SDS (and previously called a Material Safety Data Sheet), contains detailed information about the nature and risks from any agricultural and veterinary chemical. You should have a copy of the SDS for all agricultural and veterinary chemicals you use or store on the property. An SDS is available for all registered worm, lice, tick, mite and fly control products. Manufacturers have a legal obligation to provide one to the purchaser of the veterinary chemical or product. A copy must be available to all users of agricultural and veterinary chemicals and pesticides upon request. Copies are also available from the manufacturer’s website. Product labels and the most up-to-date information on treatment products are also available from, the APVMA PUBCRIS database.

Chemical poisoning

If you suspect someone may have been poisoned by a veterinary chemical or pesticides, whether treating or handling treated cattle or by accidental exposure to stored chemicals, don’t ‘wait and see’, instead, seek advice:

1. Call an ambulance—dial 000

2. Call the Poisons Information Centre—dial 13 11 26