Almost every single worker in the agricultural sector workers has likely experienced exposure to at least one carcinogen, according to Safe Work Australia (SWA).
The most common carcinogens to which workers were probably exposed were solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation (99 per cent), diesel engine exhaust (94 per cent), benzene (82 per cent), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (76 per cent) and wood dust (71 per cent).
The main circumstances or tasks associated with probable exposure included working outside, using diesel powered equipment, refuelling petrol powered equipment, repairing motors and other farming equipment and cutting wood.
“For example, the controls used by outdoor workers exposed to solar UV radiation were considered adequate about 10 per cent of the time while most workers (89 per cent) who ploughed fields reported using vehicles with enclosed cabins to prevent exposures to dusts which can contain crystalline silica,” said the SWA report.
A random, population-based sample of 5528 Australian workers participated in the Australian Work Exposure Study (AWES) nationally, and based on their responses to those questions, the likelihood of exposure to 38 carcinogens was estimated.
The report focuses on the 156 AWES respondents who were categorised as working in the agricultural industry.
While existing WHS guidance provides information about potential health effects and how exposures might occur and be prevented, SWA said the results from the study suggest that the use of controls could be improved when a number of common tasks are carried out.
“As a first step, preventative actions should be focused on the most common carcinogen exposures and those for which options for preventing or minimising exposures are well known,” SWA said.
In agriculture, this suggests a focus on reducing exposures to diesel engine exhausts and solar UV radiation, and encouraging more frequent use of ventilation systems and respiratory protective equipment for tasks like welding or soldering.
“Existing WHS information could be specifically tailored to provide clear, concise and consistent information about potential sources of exposure and controls that are appropriate for the agricultural industry,” said SWA.