Use of Personal Protective Equipment in Agricultural Workers under

Letter to the Editor
Industrial Health 2009, 47, 200–201
Use of Personal Protective Equipment in
Agricultural Workers under Hot and Humid
Eun-Kee PARK1, 3, Kirsty HANNAFORD-TURNER1 and Hu Jang LEE2*
and Education Unit, Dust Diseases Board, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Institute of Life Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Gyeongsang National University, 900
Gajwa-dong, Chinju 660-701, Korea
3NICNAS, Department of Health and Ageing, Australian Government, NSW, Australia
Received September 4, 2008 and accepted November 27, 2008
We read with interest the full report on the adverse
health effects of a hot environment on outdoor workers
at a construction site1) and thermal limits of men in moderate to heavy work in tropical farming2). Both studies
highlighted the importance of heat stress for outdoor
workers and the implementation of administrative and
engineering controls to reduce heat stress exposure. Our
interest in this topic is in relation to agricultural workers
in tropical environments who have multiple occupational
exposures and who must rely on personal protective
equipment (PPE), in the absence of higher level control
Among different economic activities, agriculture is
placed as one of the most hazardous industries3). Working
in hot climates may lead to dehydration and heat exhaustion which can cause acute- or chronic-illnesses, and in
some cases death. Severe dehydration was observed in
many Nicaraguan banana plantation workers and their
children4). Importantly, chronic dehydration seems to
increase the risk of urolithiasis5), and dehydration combined with heat, heatstroke and hyperthermia is directly
related to increased mortality6). The annual death rate
caused by heat in agricultural industry is 20-fold higher
than that for all civilian workers in the USA7).
Furthermore, dehydration and exhaustion caused by heat
can adversely affect worker productivity, safety and
Another hazard is pesticide exposure which can result
in acute and chronic adverse health effects8, 9). Despite
the obvious importance of PPE and the knowledge that
correct usage and good personal hygiene reduce occupational pesticide exposures, PPE use is still not extensive.
In developed countries, guidelines and regulations for pes*To whom correspondence should be addressed.
ticide use including the appropriate application of PPE are
well documented and established, but similar support may
not be expected in developing countries. A combination
of climate and economic issues limits PPE use in less
developed nations. Climate factors such as high humidity and temperature make the use of PPE very uncomfortable, especially respirators, face masks and overalls.
It is obvious that high humidity and temperatures are not
favorable working conditions but in combination these
factors affect the attitude and behavior among agricultural workers resulting in reduced PPE use.
A recent study on Californian farmers10) showed the
complexity of the PPE issue when they observed a significant reduction in the use of dust masks or respirators
over a prolonged period of time. Although low education and income are recognized as contributing factors to
limiting PPE use, this study showed the workers’ perception of health risks was also important and highlights
the importance of continued education. Whilst we recognize the conflict between PPE use and these adverse
climate factors, and we acknowledge the substantial costs
in supplying PPE and providing training on its use, there
must be more concrete efforts in reducing adverse health
problems in agricultural workers.
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2) Nag PK, Nag A, Ashtekar SP (2007) Thermal limits of
men in moderate to heavy work in tropical farming. Ind
Health 45, 107–17.
3) Schenker MB (1996) Preventive medicine and health
promotion are overdue in the agricultural workplace. J
Pub Health Policy 17, 275–305.
Lu C, Rodríguez T, Funez A, Irish RS, Fenske RA
(2006) The assessment of occupational exposure to
diazinon in Nicaraguan plantation workers using saliva
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Pin NT, Ling NY, Siang LH (1992) Dehydration from
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8) Bassil KL, Vakil C, Sanborn M, Cole DC, Kaur JS,
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breathing dust: behavior over time in Californian farmers. J Agric Saf Health 14, 189–203.
10) Schenker MB, Orenstein MR, Samuels SJ (2002) Use
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