Agriculture & Forestry

Agriculture Forestry

Farm workers are exposed to a wide range of biological hazards and include microbial pathogens, allergens (bacteria, fungi, particles of plants and animals) and biological vectors carrying infectious disease.

South Africa has a dual economy agriculture consisting of a well-developed commercial sector and subsistence farming mainly in rural areas. Agriculture contributes approximately 2.6% of the South African GDP employing 10% of people in the formal sector as well as casual workers.

Farm workers in crop and livestock farms are exposed to many potential physical, chemical and biological hazards. Physical hazards include noise, machinery, temperature extremes, hand and power tools, repetitive motion, vibration, high physical and mechanical loads and others. A wide range of chemical agents such fertilisers, pesticides, fuels, equipment sanitizers and protectants are used in farms. Farm workers are exposed to a wide range of biological hazards and include microbial pathogens (bacteria, virus, and fungi), allergens (bacteria, fungi, particles of plants and animals), biological toxins (endotoxins, myotoxins and plant toxins animal venoms), carcinogens (aflotoxins and wood dust) and biological vectors carrying infectious disease (ticks, mosquitos).

Common diseases report in farm workers are respiratory (allergic and non-allergic) and skin diseases due to exposure to organic and inorganic dust. Exposure to organic dust can lead to hypersensitivity to some ingredients, organic dust toxic syndrome (ODTS) and the development of allergic diseases such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis, bronchial asthma and allergic contact dermatitis. Mycotoxicoses caused by mycotoxins that are secondary metabolites of moulds and tick borne diseases where ticks transmit diseases from wild and domestic animals to people have also been reported.

The Immunology and Microbiology section can collect dust from farms and analyse this to identify the presence of bacteria and moulds, (1-3) β-D-glucan, endotoxin, MVOCs and allergens that can cause diseases in workers. Workers can also be tested for sensitisation to commercial and laboratory prepared allergens that cause respiratory and skin allergies. An information sheet is available describing the health effects associated with poultry dust.

The section also conducts research to identify potential biological hazards and its association with occupational diseases in farmworkers. A study was done among poultry workers and there are proposals to do two other studies in maize and mushroom farms.

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