Respirators key in reducing health risk from dust and gas

Health experts say farmers should always have respirators on hand because the devices are a last-defence tool when dealing with dust and gases.

Respirators, which are equipped with refillable cartridges, should be used when spraying, dealing with mould in grain bins, cutting older hay, cleaning off the combine and other tasks that could involve lots of dust and gas in the air.

“You want the respirators in places where you would use them,” explained Kendra Ulmer, a registered nurse with the Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture.

“If you have to go get it, you’re not going to get it. So, have them on location in the water truck, the sprayer, the tractor and around the grain bin. This ensures they’re accessible, but also make sure they’re in good condition so you get the protection you need.”

Ulmer works with rural municipalities in Saskatchewan to provide farmers with respiratory health clinics. She gets a sense of how healthy their lungs are by doing breathing tests, as well as by figuring out what’s causing the dust or gas. Following that, she provides ways they can reduce their risks to exposure. However, she recommends they see a family doctor if they have serious health issues.

She said it’s important farmers know there are two types of respirators — ones for dust and ones for chemicals. As well, she said it’s crucial they change the cartridges out whenever they feel like they can no longer breath properly when using them.

“There’s no expiration date on the cartridges, so that can be confusing,” she said.

“So, if it’s hard to breath through, then replace it. If you can smell or taste the grain dust or the chemical you’re using, that’s when it’s time to change it.”

As well, farmers need to ensure the respirator fits their face appropriately, Ulmer added.

“Just because a man might wear an extra large shirt doesn’t mean he’s going to need that same size for a respirator,” she said.

“The right size will provide them with the best protection.”

Farmers who don’t use the devices could put themselves at risk, she added.

When dust or mouldy dust are inhaled, symptoms could include coughing, fever, chills, laborious breathing, muscle pains, poor appetite, headaches or irritableness to allergies. What’s worse is farmers could develop asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or farmers lung.

However, Ulmer said it’s important that farmers do more than simply wear a respirator to ensure their lungs are healthy. This could include ensuring all buildings are well ventilated, that windows are open and that they use a wet process when they clean.

As well, how farmers feed their animals is critical if they want to reduce exposure to dust. It’s recommended they keep coops low so particles stay as low as possible, that oil be added to feed and that feed falls from lower levels. If farmers are cutting hay, it’s recommended they sprinkle water over it to reduce particles from escaping.

“They have to look at the possible exposures and determine how they can best reduce these hazards,” Ulmer said.

“Personal protective equipment is the last line of defence. Respiratory disease due to ag exposure can be preventable by using these various control methods.”

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