Chemical exposure reduction: factors impacting on South African herbicide sprayers' personal protective equipment compliance and high risk work practices




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Environmental Research, 0013-9351, Vol. 142, 2015, p. 34-45

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The high exposure risks of workers to herbicides in low- and middle-income countries is an important public health concern because of the potential resulting negative impacts on workers' health. This study investigated workers' personal protective equipment (PPE) compliance as a risk mitigation measure; particularly workers who apply herbicides for Working for Water (WfW) – a South African invasive alien vegetation control programme. The study aim was to understand workers' low PPE compliance by analysing their risk perceptions of herbicide use, working conditions and socio-cultural context. Research methods included ethnographic observations, informal interviews, visual media, questionnaires and a focus group. Study results indicated that low PPE compliance persists despite workers' awareness of herbicide exposure risks and as a result of the influence from workers' socio-cultural context (i.e. gender dynamics and social status), herbicide risk perceptions and working conditions (i.e. environmental and logistical). Interestingly, teams comprised of mostly women had the highest compliance rate. These findings highlighted that given the complexity of PPE compliance, especially in countries with several economic and social constraints, exposure reduction interventions should not rely solely on PPE use promotion. Instead, other control strategies requiring less worker input for effectiveness should be implemented, such as elimination and substitution of highly hazardous pesticides, and altering application methods.

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Pesticides, Personal protective equipment (PPE) compliance, Risk perception, Pesticide risk management, Gender