Respiratory conditions (35%) are among the principal occupational issues that Irish farmers suffer from, Teagasc’s National Farm Survey indicates.
The state agency’s data shows that musculoskeletal disorders account for 50%, while contracting zoonotic infections from animals are responsible for 7.5% of conditions, and a further 7.5% fall under others.
In an information video, a spokesperson for Teagasc said:
“Dust spores and vapours can cause very severe illness. It is important to reduce dust and spores.”
“Always wear the proper PPE, for example, masks and improve ventilation. Long-term impacts include asthma, chronic bronchitis, shortness of breath, weight loss, farmer’s lung and sensitisation.”
According to Teagasc’s health and safety specialist, John McNamara, spores are “public enemy number one as regards to respiratory health”.
“They contain proteins, and if you get a high dose of those into your lungs, it will cause respiratory sensitisation and scarring. Those proteins cause an inflammatory action, and that leads to lung damage, asthma and other conditions too.”
“One high dose can trigger an allergy or a condition that is then triggered by subsequently low doses thereafter. The body reacts to the spores and causes the problem.”
“It is not just bales; silage, grain, any type of feed or mould going with it. Lungs need clear air and nothing else.”
“In Ireland, our problem is our three, or four or five-month winter, when we are indoors and feeding feed by in large. We have the potential to have those spores there.”
“One very important message is about ventilation, and that should always come first. Airflow for livestock as well as for people is absolutely crucial to lower the levels in the first instance.”
“Ventilation is the first issue, and the second issue, which is personal rather than farming, is smoking, which is incredibly bad for all sorts of things.”
“The good news is that farmers smoke less than the rest of the population, and levels are dropping.”
McNamara appeared on the Let’s Talk Dairy bonus episode, where he discussed farmer health and provided the following key take-home messages that we have summarised for readers:
- Health is wealth – “If you do not have health, you do not have anything else really,”
- In the long-term, 70% of illness is preventable – we can make changes;
- If you have concerns about your health, contact your GP ASAP;
- Research: Farmers are seven times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease compared to non-ag workers. Farmers have three times higher cancer mortality than blue/white collar workers;
- Farmers are one of the highest risk groups for skin cancer – sun protection important;
- 60% of farmers have a respiratory issue (hayfever, for example, is a “big” issue);
- 13% of farmers have an airways disease;
- 12% have some form of lung damage measured by a spirometer;
- Personal health important: Getting a check-up, visiting your GP, knowing your health status, managing your diet and exercising;
- Lifting: Eliminate if possible, or if you must do so, follow advised manual handling and lifting safety protocol;
- Wear proper masks if handling mouldy or dusty silage or hay – Teagasc advises farmers to wear a suitable respiratory mask (EN 149 Type 92) to the manufacturer’s specs if there is a risk of spores or if a person has an existing respiratory condition – Shop around for a mask that suits you, your needs and that you are comfortable with;
- Use gloves routinely;
- Prevention is better than cure – A respiratory health condition may be irreversible – Act without delay;
- Change can take time, but determination is key.
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