IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Raising Awareness of Skin Exposure to Pesticides and Prevention Practices: Methodological Development Undertaken with Québec Apple Producers

Summary

Farmers use pesticides to ensure that their operations are profitable and thus economically viable, and to respond to the market’s expectations of quality. There is extensive scientific literature documenting the health effects that may be linked to pesticide use. Many authors note that a significant pesticide exposure route is through skin contact. This report presents the development of a mixed methodology combining ergonomics and exposure assessment to document skin exposure, exposure situations and the associated prevention practices.

The methodology is based on a case study research design divided into four steps: an exploratory study funded by the IRSST (Champoux, Jolly, Beaugrand and Tuduri, 2018) (step 0), field collection of mixed data (step 1), presentation of the mixed data to the producers (step 2), and the library of skin exposure situations and associated prevention practices (step 3). Various methods were used during these steps, including semi-structured interviews (preliminary, post-observation), self-confrontation interviews, a discussion workshop, filmed observations, and external skin exposure measurements using a whole body dosimeter.

In addition to direct contact with commercial products (from spraying, aerosolization, spillage) during their work activities, producers may come in contact with pesticide residues by touching stored pesticide containers, spraying equipment or measuring tools. Contact with residues is also possible when working in the orchard. Few studies have looked at the presence of pesticide residues persisting in the work environment. In one study, Champoux et al.  (2018) identified 33 potential situations (from observation of the work activity, but without measuring exposure) of micro-exposure during a full cycle of pesticide use. Furthermore, through observations and interviews, prevention practices emerged and proved to be complementary to the wearing of protective clothing. Thus, the prevention practices implemented by apple growers appear to be an interesting avenue to explore for reducing contact with pesticides so as to limit exposure. As the majority of apple growers are owner-operators of small orchards, work collectives are almost inexistent among them, so there are few opportunities to exchange ideas about experiences. However, according to Mohammed-Brahim and Garrigou (2009) and Champoux et al. (2018), sharing prevention practices could significantly contribute to reducing the risks related to pesticide use.

The methodological design made it possible to document skin exposure, exposure situations and associated prevention practices. The measurement of skin exposure carried out using Tyvek® coveralls (whole body dosimeter) was used to characterize skin exposure to pesticides during the tasks of preparation-filling and work in the orchard. The results obtained through a small number of observations revealed high exposure levels. The mixed approach, combining both analysis of the work activity and measurement of skin exposure using a whole body dosimeter made it possible to identify the contacts between the growers and the sources of exposure. The methodology developed enabled a first step toward understanding exposure by documenting exposure situations. Understanding exposure situations was a prerequisite for developing the tools used during a discussion workshop to help apple growers describe and share their prevention practices. The producers, using the videos and the exposure findings, discussed prevention practices to reduce their exposure and the contamination of their work and home environments. The library, proposed in this report, summarizes the exposure situations and prevention practices from which actions could be considered to help reduce skin exposure to pesticides.

Thus, this exposure overview, obtained with only eight cases, highlights the importance of implementing measures to protect producers. The variability of the work situations observed and the exposure situations documented justify the importance of taking into account the actual work activity of producers when improving prevention methods currently in place in Québec.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
Author(s):
Research Project: 2017-0048
Online since: March 09, 2021
Format: Text