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I.                       
         Introduction

Agriculture in
Iran employs a considerable part of occupational potentials, by which most of villages,
hamlets, and country lands feed the whole nation. According to evidence, Iran
is ranked fourteenth in respect to irrigated land per capita, fifteenth in
total agricultural land, and fifty-seventh in agricultural land per capita.
Approximately one-third of total area of the nation is suitable for farmland;
however, inadequate water distribution has limited its capacity. Considering
the present limitations, some one-eighth of total land area of Iran is under
cultivation. As an economic perspective, agricultural activities account for
20% of national GDP, and farmworkers have entailed 16.3% of national workforce.
The prominence of agriculture in Iran is of no question, and for the reasons
which were briefly mentioned above, this text was intended to be written in
order to offer a better understanding of the hazards and risks in Iranian
farmlands.

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Based on
statistical data, agricultural activities account for considerable mortality at
the workplace. Globally, with 170,000 mortalities per year, it has been ranked
as the third hazardous occupation after mining industry and civil workers.
Developing nations are seen as the mostly-suspected culprits, due to the broad
gap in their workplace standards, shortage of guidelines, and lack of technology.
Land fields are not monitored, nor maintained; thus their general safety is a
matter of argument. The overall objective of this text is to help promote more
of a preventive occupational safety in agricultural lands of Iran. It has been
thoroughly discussed in the following three sections. Section II arguments the
condition of farmers and farmlands in Iran. Section III focuses on the hazards
of agricultural activities and Section IV comes up with possible alternatives
to the problems mentioned in section III. In short, this text helps to raise
awareness of the hazards and risks associated with agriculture and how they can
be effectively managed and controlled.

 

II.                    
Agriculture in
Iran

One may describe the agriculture in
Iran as the beating heart of its body. Although agriculture in the public view
has been mostly seen as the state of farming in a land, it actually comprises
various subsections and subdivisions, including organic agriculture,
domesticated animals, bee keeping, and aquaculture (i.e. the cultivation of sea
food, and sea products as shrimp, fish, algae, etc.). The most rural areas in
Iran depend on the agricultural industry to make the ends meet. On the other
hand, the corrupt condition of many farmlands has obliged them to move to
cities and has lessened the potential behind. Also, the non-automated
agricultural systems in many regions expose the labor force to considerable
risks and hazards. This is to an extent that the agriculture occupation has
been claimed to be the third hazardous career in the world. According to
evidence and statistics, it has a mortality rate of some 170,000 people annually.
In Iran, there are many critics towards this industry and many questions are still
left unanswered and are currently one of the hot topics of newspapers and media.

In this study, the most attention has
paid to organic agriculture and animal husbandry rather than bee keeping and
aquaculture. In my homeland, Pastures and rangelands, where most farmers work
on, are the most common form of land use in terms of spatial distribution. In addition,
domesticated animals are also kept both by the farmworkers and the rural
population. The irrigation condition in the province I live in, East Azerbaijan,
is not as good as Northern regions of Iran, yet is better than many desert-like
districts in central provinces. Thus, the natural irrigation in some areas has
been based on groundwater, and nearby rivers or water streams. Regarding this,
unfortunately there is a vast amount of critics against damn constructions and
the dried lake of Urmia which is not irrelevant to the topic. Unawareness of
consequences in a period of time, both in water distribution management, and the
lack of drip- or micro-irrigation in many farmlands, might have resulted in the
present situation. These problems and the sense of probable hazards made me
choose this occupation as my project in environmental health and ergonomics
analysis for my MPH studies. In this text, I have tried to approach different aspects
of agriculture, exploring the adventures behind this common occupation. This
text will respond to questions that what are the hazards and perils in Iranian
agriculture, who are the victims, and what are the probable culprits. Then, at
the end of the each section, alternatives are proposed for each mentioned
problem. This is a field study of farmlands in East Azerbaijan, and claims are
based on accessible evidence, observations, and interviews.

III.         Occupational Hazards and Potential
Resolutions

1.? Machinery and work equipment safety

Agriculture
involves the use of a wide variety of hazardous machinery and processes. Among
the most common are tractors, cultivators, harrows, seeding equipment,
sprayers, harvesters, mowers, balers, grinders, trucks, wagons, trailers,
all-terrain vehicles, augers, manure spreaders, and elevating equipment. In
addition, a wide range of tools are used both in agricultural production and
when carrying out repairs. The principal safety risks include traumatic
injuries including, but not limited to, cuts, burns, electrocution, fractures
and amputations caused by contact with cutters, gears, belts, shafts and other
moving parts, burst hydraulic hoses and contact with live electrical equipment.
Such injuries occur not only during the course of production but also during
maintenance and repairs, cleaning, clearing blockages, etc. The effects of such
injuries can be all the more serious because many farm workers work alone and
first aid or medical help may be far away. used.

Farm tractors
are the most important piece of power equipment used in agriculture and are
associated with a major proportion of injuries and deaths in
agricultural production and maintenance. Hazards associated with tractors can
be grouped into instability resulting in rollovers, run-overs, and other
miscellaneous risks including, but not limited to, slips and falls when
climbing on or off tractors, crushing injuries from unintended rolling, and
driving under low-hanging branches. Also Noise associated with farm tractors can
result in hearing impairment. Vibration associated with tractors may result in
musculoskeletal injuries. These will be thoroughly discussed in upcoming
sections.

Elimination of the hazard: The elimination of hazards relative to the
maintenance and operation of tractors in agricultural environments presents a
major challenge. Total elimination may prove difficult given the number and
variety of tractors, the wide range of tasks and the level of risk in the
outdoor environment. Nonetheless, the employer should have as a goal the
elimination of tractor hazards by the use of all safety modalities available,
including engineering controls, safe work systems and procedures and the training,
induction and supervision of workers. The employer should ensure that the brakes,
emergency brakes, lights, signal lights and other safety devices are regularly maintained
and kept in safe working condition.

In addition to aforementioned
hazards about tractors, agricultural
workers use a wide variety of equipment and tools that are designed to
undertake a range of tasks including but not limited to tilling the soil, sowing
seeds, applying agricultural chemicals, harvesting and storing crops, cutting
and baling hay, grinding feed, hauling manure and many other tasks. Tillage equipment, such as ploughs and
cultivators, seeders, chemical sprayers of both the hand-held and
machine-mounted variety, swathers, combines, mowers, balers, feed grinders,
manure spreaders and numerous other large and small machines including
hydraulic devices, have all been implicated in accidents involving serious
injury or death. Such machinery includes rotating components, sharp cutting
edges, transmission belts and chain drives, feed rolls and gear drives that,
unless properly guarded, pose a grave risk of amputation, crushing or
entanglement that may result in severe disability or death. Accidents involving
hand tools such as hoes, hammers, crowbars, picks and beaters, sickles,
scythes, cutlasses and machetes and portable power tools may lead to scratches,
lacerations, amputations of digits or limbs or other injuries, some of which
may result in severe disability or death.

2.? Ergonomics and the handling of
materials

Ergonomic factors affect the health outcomes of
agricultural workers. These include:

– the nature of the physical work environment
(noise, heat, lighting, thermal comfort), the agricultural tasks to be
performed;

– the technology applied to the prescribed
tasks (including workplace design, facility design, and agricultural material handling);

– the manner in which tasks are organized
(including use of shift work); and

– worker characteristics (including
demographics, physiology, human error, and identification and treatment of
injured workers).

Agricultural
work can span a wide range of tasks from arduous to sedentary, from stooping,
reaching, bending, and carrying out repetitive movements in awkward body
positions to sitting in air-conditioned or heated comfort while operating
sophisticated agricultural equipment. Economic, topographical, technical,
gender-based and even socio-cultural factors may limit mechanization or usage,
and where implemented, may introduce new ergonomic risk resulting from
equipment design and vibration. Huge technological challenges to design and
introduction of technology to replace manual labor remain within many
agricultural worksites. There is still extensive reliance on manual labor. Many agricultural work environments are characterized by labor-intensive
practices such as manual seeding (transplanting rice, fresh vegetables, or
horticultural products), crop maintenance (weeding, pruning, grafting, or hand
tillage), harvest (hand picking of fresh fruits and vegetables, copra, or
kapok), or post-harvest activities (inspection, packing, or loading/shipping). The
manual planting of seedlings, crop maintenance (weeding, pruning, and
grafting), the manual harvest of fresh fruits, nuts, vegetables, and palm oil,
and post-harvest handling of these products may cause cumulative trauma
disorders, neck and upper extremity impairment, and lower back impairment. Workers
may engage in prolonged exposures to stooped work (transplanting seedlings,
pre-harvest weeding, or crop harvest by hand) that involves sustained or
repeated reaching and twisting to full body bending. Further, agricultural work
may be conducted in hot and/or humid, or cold environments; both indoors and
outdoors.

Moreover, workers
may perform very highly repetitive hand work (clipping, cutting, or manual
plant shank pulling) which requires simultaneous non-neutral posturing of the
hand or wrist with both applied upper-bound hand force (either to the tool or
to the crop) and speed of hand/wrist movement. Highly repetitive hand work
during the manual maintenance and harvest of crops, and the coupling of
non-neutral postures, the force applied, and the speed of hand action
contribute to the risk of developing upper limb musculoskeletal injuries. Moving
agricultural equipment and vehicles, motorized platforms used during planting
or harvesting, mechanical harvesters employing vibrating technology, and work
surfaces employing embedded weighing scales may induce whole body vibration. Excessive
exposure to hand-transmitted vibration can cause disorders in the blood
vessels, nerves, muscles, and bones and joints of the upper limbs of the human
body. Whole body vibration, depending on magnitude
and duration, can lead to diseases of the peripheral nerves, prostatitis, and
both acute and chronic back injury.

3.? Chemicals

The widespread
use of agrochemicals in agriculture worldwide requires rigorous control to
prevent serious health risks to employers, workers and the general public.
Sound management of chemicals and the deployment of the full hierarchy of
controls are needed to minimize occupational exposures. Pesticides are the chemicals of greatest
concern in regard to health and safety in agriculture. Pesticides are
categorized according to their use, and include fungicides, herbicides,
insecticides, larvicides, miticides, molluscicides, nematicids, ovicides,
piscicides and rodenticides. Other chemicals classed as pesticides include
attractants, chemosterilants, defoliants, desiccants, disinfectants, growth
regulators, pheromones, feed attractants and repellents.

Fertilizers
that are a toxic hazard for workers can cause skin irritation and potentially
serious respiratory effects through the inhalation of gaseous forms of
anhydrous ammonia. Absorption through the skin is the primary route of exposure
for most widely used insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. At normal
exposure levels, skin damage or other symptoms may not be noticed, so absorption
occurs without the worker’s knowledge. The distribution of skin exposure will
be determined by the particular work tasks. Care should be taken when handling
fertilizers to minimize exposures. In the case of
affliction, pesticides produce acute health effects when signs and symptoms of
poisoning occur shortly after exposure, normally within 24 hours. These effects
may be either local or systemic. Local effects are those that occur at the
point of contact, as is the case with skin and eye irritation. Systemic effects
require absorption and distribution from the entry point to other parts of the
body. Also reproductive effects may occur due to either paternal or maternal
pesticide exposure. Exposure may affect the sexual function and fertility of
both men and women. Exposure by either parent before conception or maternal
exposure during pregnancy or breast-feeding may adversely affect the
development of the offspring.

Also, some
veterinary products including veterinary medicines have toxic properties and
workers who handle these products may be exposed to them. Care should be taken
when handling veterinary products to minimize skin exposures. In addition, Animal emissions, such as ammonia and methane,
are eye and respiratory irritants, so care should be taken when workers enter
closed spaces.

Furthermore to what have been mentioned, exhaust
from fuel-powered equipment, including diesel, is a significant respiratory
hazard and worker exposure should be minimized. Gases formed during crop
storage can be toxic and may pose a risk to workers in confined spaces. Inhalation
is an important route of exposure when working with volatile compounds or in
enclosed spaces such as greenhouses. Gases and vapors are readily inhaled and
absorbed in the respiratory tract. Small particles (10 microns or less),
including water droplets can also be inhaled. Pesticides can volatilize from
treated leaves and soil, posing a hazard to re-entry workers. Care should be
taken to ventilate such spaces prior to entry, and to wear proper respiratory
protection.

4.? Dusts and other particulate
matter and other biological exposures

Agricultural
production involves the generation of a variety of dusts and biological exposures
that present potential hazards to the health of workers. These include dusts
and other particulate matter, animal waste, zoonoses, needle-stick injuries,
bites and stings as well as vector-borne diseases in the agricultural environment.
Dusts are generated in the production of various grains, legumes and other
field crops. Dusts are most frequently generated during such processes as
preparing seed for planting, harvesting, cleaning, primary processing, bagging
and transporting crops to market. Dusts may include components such as straw,
bagasse, husks of grain, mold fungal
and bacterial residues, bioaerosols, endotoxin, pesticide residues, fumigants,
and particles of silica. The above listing is illustrative and non-exhaustive. Other forms of dusts are associated with the
production of birds, swine and other livestock, which may take place in outdoor
and/or indoor production facilities. Such dust may include particles of straw
and grain, fecal matter, bacteria, micro-toxins, endotoxin, molds, fungi, animal
hair, feathers, pollen and other substances. The
inhaled particles may be very small – less than 100 microns in size – and
therefore may be capable of penetrating to the deepest levels of the lungs and
causing a variety of breathing problems. The lungs of workers can be affected
by exposure to harmful agents through acute (short-term) injury to the lung, or
the development of long-term injury such as chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease, asthma, organic dust toxic syndrome, and acute allergic alveolitis,
also known as “farmer’s lung”.

The elimination
of dust from agricultural environments presents a formidable challenge. Total
elimination may prove difficult, particularly in outdoor environments.
Engineering controls can greatly reduce the level of dust and other suspended
particulate matter, particularly in enclosed environments. Employers should
ensure that livestock waste storage and holding facilities are physically separate
from animal and bird confinement houses. Such facilities should be designed and
constructed in such a manner as to prevent aerosolation of aqueous matter,
dust, or other particulate. Employers should ensure that gas and particulate
levels in livestock and poultry confinement houses and similar facilities are
as low as practicable and are consistent with national standards and practice.
As can be seen by the following table, maximum allowable exposure levels for
ammonia and hydrogen sulphide gases are quite well defined and are fairly
consistent within and between jurisdictions. It can also be seen that maximum
allowable exposure levels for grain dust which had been set at 10 mgm3
time-weighted average in Canada and OSHA USA, are now recommended at 3 or 4
mgm3 time-weighted average by the State of California and the American
Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. It should also be noted that
in the Netherlands a maximum level for endotoxin is being considered. In
addition, maximum exposure levels for grain dust may not be appropriate for
animal housing facilities because the dust in those houses contains in addition
to grain dust, significant concentrations of other substances such as endotoxin
and bacterial products, the effects of which may be magnified by coexisting
ammonia and hydrogen sulphide. Significant effects on the respiratory system in
humans have been shown at total dust levels as low as 2 mgm3.

5.? Noise

Noise is a
serious occupational hazard to those who work in agriculture. The less exposure
to noise, the better. Hearing loss may result from a single intense exposure or
cumulative exposure to noise. There are many potential sources of noise on
farms, including tractors, chainsaws, grain dryers and guns, and contact with
animals such as pigs. Exposure to farm equipment or animal production is the
principal source of noise-induced hearing loss in agriculture. By comparison,
the noise level of a normal conversation is 50–60 dB. For machinery, the best option for reducing
noise is to do so at source through good design. For example, many new tractors
and other farm equipment have been designed so as to emit low levels of noise.
The second option is to reduce noise by installing sound-proofed enclosures, acoustic materials or other
engineering measures. If such means are insufficient, hearing protectors should
be provided and the amount of time spent in noisy environments limited. Hearing
protectors may also be needed for other agricultural processes, such as working
with livestock.

Hearing damage
usually occurs over longer periods of time because of prolonged exposure to
high noise levels. Hearing loss may be only temporary after short periods of
exposure to noise, but if workers continue to be exposed to high noise levels
they will suffer permanent damage to their hearing. Permanent damage can also
be caused immediately by sudden, extremely loud noises, e.g. from guns. High noise levels can also be a safety hazard
at work, interfering with communication and making warnings harder to hear, and
they can also increase worker fatigue and cause irritability, reducing
performance. Noise is
generally measured over an eight hours work exposure time. Work exposures
longer than eight hours will reduce the allowed noise levels for extended time
frames.

 

 

6.? Vibration

Vibration in
the workplace is generally classified as:

(a)     
whole
body vibration, which is transmitted by sitting or standing on vibrating
surfaces, such as when driving tractors and other farm machinery. Prolonged
exposure can lead to severe back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders; and

(b)     
hand–arm
vibration, which is transmitted through the use of hand-held powered equipment
like chainsaws, brush cutters and hedge trimmers. Prolonged exposure can lead
to damage to the hand and arm muscles (hand–arm vibration syndrome), joints and
nerves.

Short duration
exposure to whole body vibration or to hand–arm vibration may result in
temporary disability, but prolonged or repeated exposure leads to permanent
damage. The main concerns are therefore the magnitude of vibration transmitted
and the duration of exposure. Exposure to whole body vibration is unlikely on
its own to cause injuries, but it can aggravate existing back injuries which
may cause pain.

As with noise,
vibration is best reduced or eliminated at source through good design of
equipment. For example, tractors with in-built suspended cabs or chainsaws with
anti-vibration mountings can reduce vibration emission levels significantly.
Engineering controls to reduce vibration subsequently may be possible but these
are usually less effective. PPE, such as anti-vibration gloves, is not a substitute
for engineering controls and should only be considered as a last resort.
However, exposure levels will be reduced by spending less time working with
vibrating equipment.

Common sources
of whole body vibration include driving or standing on a tractor, all-terrain
vehicles or other machinery to perform tasks like baling, drilling, foraging,
spraying, ploughing and harrowing. The effects of whole body vibration are made
worse by driving over rough ground or over bumps or potholes. It is also
experienced when standing on vibrating platforms, such as mechanical harvesters
and motorized tree fruit picking platforms, or working near large machinery,
such as milling or threshing machines. Common sources
of hand–arm vibration in agriculture are the use of hand-held vibratory tools
and equipment, such as chainsaws, brush cutters or grinders. Other sources
include impact wrenches used in equipment maintenance and repair, chainsaws,
brush saws and weed saws, portable fruit, nut or kapok harvesters and vibro-compactors.

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