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Hazardous Substances on the Farm or Orchard

Generally, the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 don’t apply on farms or orchards unless there is a certain volume, or some specific hazardous substances on site. In saying that, there are some best management practices and obligations as the Person in Charge of your workplace to ensure that everyone is safe when handling chemicals. These practices can be included in a Farm Health and Safety Plan.

Farmers and orchardists use a wide range of chemicals and fuel on the farm or orchard – some of which may be extremely toxic to people, animals, plants and the environment. These can include herbicides, insecticides, veterinary medicines, cleaners, sanitisers, LPG, diesel and other fuels and oils, to name a few.

Whatever chemicals you have, it is important to know the associated risks, even if you’ve used it a number of times before. Below are some practical guidelines for handling chemicals in your environment:

Store chemicals in their original containers, ensuring they remain undamaged, and the labels are legible. If decanting it into a smaller container, it is best not to use food or drink containers as they can easily be confused with the real thing. Ensure that the new container is clearly labelled.

Store the chemicals in an appropriate place with the lid firmly on – preferably in a place that’s secure, well away from any water sources, and where children cannot reach them. Many chemicals need to be kept away from direct sunlight or kept cool or in a well-ventilated space. Some chemicals can’t be stored with other chemicals, and some need to be kept under lock and key. The label and SDS will have a lot of that information.

Make an inventory of chemicals on the premises, specifying their volumes and storage locations. Consider placing chemical signage on the doors to help Emergency Services in the case of fire or flood emergencies.

Having the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and knowing how to use it properly can help reduce the chance of exposure to the chemical. Some chemicals are more hazardous than others, and even short-term exposure can lead to serious health effects. Chemicals can get into the body through breathing fumes, ingesting through the mouth, skin contact, or through cuts and grazes or accidental injection. The SDS provides first aid advice or contact the Poisons Centre on 0800 POISON (0800 764 766). If the person is unconscious or has stopped breathing contact 111 immediately.

If there are farm or orchard workers on the property that use chemicals, it is important that they are adequately trained and/or supervised in the use of those chemical(s), and that they are provided with the correct PPE for the job. It is also important that agrichemical contractors are suitably qualified to conduct the work.

A farm plan can include a procedure to manage spills. Many chemicals are toxic to the environment (ecotoxic) – they can pollute waterways and kill fish, animals, insects and vegetation, as well as contaminate the soil. For small spills, a spill kit will manage the clean-up. The SDS will contain information on what to do in the event of a spill, depending on the volume. If it isn’t clear what the substance is, assume the worst and treat it accordingly. Don’t try to manage major spills alone, contact Fire and Emergency NZ, and if it gets into a waterway, contact the Regional Council Pollution Hotline for assistance.

And lastly, it is important to dispose of any unwanted or part used chemicals and their containers properly, rinsing out the empty containers before disposing of them. The product label and SDS will have information for safe disposal. The regional council can also advise about disposing of chemicals. It is likely that they will work with the Agrecovery Rural Recycling Programme. The programme offers the collection of chemicals, containers and drums. Some transfer stations will also accept used chemicals provided they are in their original containers.

Jessica Hunter

Environmental Consultant

Allegrow Ltd