Agricultural PPE: Using a Working Gas Mask and Other Devices
Every year the cost of nonfatal injuries to farmers is around 1 billion dollars. This is due to the nature of the agricultural industry, which has a tremendous profile of occupational hazards.
It requires the use of chemicals, heavy equipment, and the management of animals. The modern farm is held to a very high standard and is required to meet strict health and safety guidelines for keeping themselves and their employees safe with practices, procedures, and of course, a variety of PPE such as a working gas mask.
The type of PPE required will depend mainly on the agricultural operation. In this article, we will be covering respirators, single-use masks, protective gloves, and self-contained breathing apparatuses.
To learn more about other threats farmers and agricultural workers face, read our article on Farmer's Lung and Other Reasons Why Farmers Need Respiratory Protection.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Working Gas Mask and other PPE for Agricultural Workers
Agricultural Worker Hazards
What is your Employer Responsible For?
Full Body PPE for Agricultural Work
Frequently Asked Questions
Working Gas Mask and other PPE for Agricultural Workers
Agriculture is one of the largest industries in the world. It is also one of the most important as it is responsible for many things. When people think about agriculture, they often forget things like cotton, tobacco, and animal feed that allow us to bring meat-producing animals to market.
(Image courtesy of UC Davis Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety )
Injuries are widespread for agricultural workers, and things like respiratory damage, sun damage, or even injuries to the eye can easily be avoided by donning the proper working gas mask for agricultural work.
The CDC has been tracking injuries to the agricultural worker to ensure safer practices:
In 2020, 11,880 injuries in agricultural production required days away from work
From 2014-2015, 42% of all hired crop worker injuries were classified as sprain or strain.
In 2014, an estimated 12,000 youth were injured on farms; 4,000 injuries were due to farm work.
Agricultural Worker Hazards
The hazards faced by agricultural workers are many, and they are varied. Injuries are prevalent but can be avoided with proper PPE for agricultural work and training. We will look at four major hazard areas where threats can be mitigated with the appropriate use of the working gas mask and other forms of PPE.
The general population often needs to understand the hazards of working with grains, particularly in grain storage bins. Grain storage bins must be adequately managed to avoid death by suffocation or being crushed by grain weight.
(Image courtesy of Scientific American)
If the grain is not compressed enough, you risk sinking into the grain stored in the bin, and suffocation follows very quickly.
Agricultural workers must also consider the air in grain storage bins. The oxygen levels in these bins can get dangerously low and contain toxic contaminants or flammable gasses.
Pesticides play an important role in agriculture. While we are looking for ways to reduce or eliminate their use, it is not yet possible. Our growing population and industry require massive agricultural yields year over year.
(Image courtesy of Ensia)
Pesticides ensure foods and animal feed are grown to maturity and brought to market without being decimated by pests.
All that said, there are inherent risks to working with these chemicals as an agricultural worker. The effects on the respiratory system are the number one reason to use PPE when using pesticides.
Animal Borne Illness
Working with animals comes with its own hazards. One of the most significant hazards is the risk of contracting an animal-borne illness. The most common transmission means are cleaning pens and dealing with animal waste.
(Image courtesy of Science.org)
The best way to deal with these threats is to practice good personal hygiene, like consistent handwashing. OSHA standards for safety require access to proper facilities to conduct these personal hygiene practices.
1928 Subpart I - General Environmental Controls - The standard that falls within this Subpart — currently the only one — covers field sanitation. Standard 1928.110 requires employers to provide plenty of drinking water, toilet facilities, and handwashing stations for employees in the fields.
From rolling over tractors to dealing with augers and even the dangers of cotton gins, agricultural workers face several hazards from various kinds of agricultural equipment.
(Image courtesy of Pape Machinery )
The high-decibel equipment can cause damage to workers hearing over time, and even the sheer amount of time in the sun can be hazardous to skin and eyes when operating this equipment outside.
What is your Employer Responsible For?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recognizes the hazards that agriculture workers face and has created general industry standards to hold every farm and agricultural operation accountable for protecting its workers.
These standards recognize everything from living quarters, ammonia exposure, and MSDS sheets to help with hazard communications. Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, will help with many standards that apply to farm safety.
Every agricultural worker should read and understand the standards below. This is the best way you can hold an employer accountable for an unsafe environment or praise them for providing you with a safe working environment.
OSHA General Industry Standards that Apply to Farm Safety
(Image courtesy of Sentinel )
142 - Temporary labor camps. This is a detailed list of safety standards for temporary worker housing. Includes proscriptions against flooding, overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and other health threats, among other topics.
111(a) and (b) - Storage and handling of anhydrous ammonia. Anhydrous ammonia is, among other things, a highly concentrated nitrogen fertilizer. Because of its heavy use in commercial agriculture, OSHA requires farmers to observe existing standards on the substance’s use, storage, and means of handling.
266 - Logging operations. These rules are designed to enhance safety during the harvesting of trees. Highlights include detailed descriptions of required personal protective equipment, specifications for chain saws and other machines, and first-aid essentials.
145 - Slow-moving vehicles. Agricultural standard 1928.21(a)(4) is admittedly a bit confusing. It informs the reader that General Industry standard 1910.145 applies to farm work — but it also labels the that General Industry standard as “Slow-moving vehicles.” In fact, the broader standard 1910.145 covers a wider range of necessary hazard signs; we can only assume that, by listing only the one hazard sign in the agricultural standards, the Code only requires farmers to label their slow-moving vehicles.
1200 - Hazard communication. This standard requires the labeling of toxic and hazardous substances, including some of the pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers used in agriculture.
1027 - Cadmium. Phosphate fertilizers often contain cadmium, a toxic trace element subject to strict OSHA handling requirements. These rules are contained in this standard for general industry.
1201 - Retention of DOT markings, placards, and labels. Again, this standard is relevant in the agriculture industry because of the hazardous nature of some fertilizers and pesticides. It requires handlers of such materials to retain the DOT labels on packages until they’re thoroughly cleaned.
Full Body PPE for Agricultural Work
Grains, livestock, pesticides, and agricultural equipment are all significant parts of an agricultural worker's business. We will look at each business segment and establish quality PPE options.
Working in Grain Production
Now that we understand the specific threats and hazards attributed to grain production. Let's break down the PPE needs that an agriculture worker would need to address to work safely in this environment.
Agricultural workers planting, harvesting, storing, and managing grain will likely be exposed to dust particulates and sun exposure. It would be best to consider eye protection from dust and the sun's harmful rays to protect your eyes. At a minimum this should include full sealed goggles or a full face working gas mask
Eye health can suffer from prolonged exposure to the sun's rays. This could come in the form of sunglasses or even more protective goggles. Gas masks can have tinted outserts or visor films.
There are loud machines in agriculture, and anything above 85 decibels could damage your hearing over time. Earplugs or noise-reducing headphones would be a great addition.
Anytime you deal with heavy machinery, you must be prepared to protect your head. Agricultural workers suffer injuries and even death from such machinery. According to the CDC, rollover tractor accidents were the most common fatality in agricultural work.
Agricultural workers dealing with grains will face heavy dust in storage areas and mold spores. Clean air is a necessity for those working in grain storage areas. A working gas mask is a must have in this area.
A versatile half-face respirator like the TAPR system developed by MIRA Safety with a multigas filter like the NBC-77 SOF is the answer for protecting your lungs with PPE. This system is lightweight, easy to don, and secure. It also comes in an easy-to-carry case with slots for the filters!
In 2020, 368 farmers and farm workers died from a work-related injury, resulting in a fatality rate of 18.0 deaths per 100,000 workers. Transportation incidents, which include tractor overturns, were the leading cause of death for these farmers and farm workers.
A quality hard hat will protect your skull and brain from an unnecessary injury that could be prevented with the proper PPE.
The body harness is the best PPE for stepping into grain storage containers. Walking on top of stored grains can be very dangerous. The purpose of the body harness is to keep you from being buried alive in grain. Even if you sink a bit, you will be held up by the body harness.
Working with Pesticides
Pesticides are dangerous, and they can affect several parts of your body. The proper PPE is essential to keep agricultural workers safe from this hazard.
The most important part of your body to protect when using pesticides is your lungs. If you get pesticides on your skin, you can wash them and remove the problem. However, once you inhale pesticides, you will experience health effects that could be avoided with the proper PPE.
While you could go for a half-face respirator to protect your lungs, investing in a full-face working gas mask like the CM-6M that simultaneously protects your eyes and lungs–is worth it for agricultural workers.
The CM-6M has a full face shield that gives you an incredible field of view which is also essential for safety.
If you decide on a half-face respirator, you will need some way to protect your eyes from harmful pesticides. Some of these chemicals can drastically affect your eye health, and like lungs, eyes are much harder to clean than skin.
Quality goggles that fit well can protect your eyes. Look for goggles that are NIOSH Standards for pesticide protection.
Protecting exposed skin like your hands, head, face, and neck is all required when using certain pesticides. It would be best if you had PPE like chemical-resistant gloves and possibly Tyvek or other coveralls that protect your exposed skin to achieve this.
Managing animals requires several different processes, from checking animal health to cleaning and sanitizing living areas and slaughter and depopulation. The type of PPE needed for the process can vary.
Animals spread things like Avian and Swine flu, which can affect animals elsewhere on the farm or even make you sick. These are no fun and can easily be avoided with proper PPE and personal hygiene practices.
(Image courtesy of New Medical)
Cleaning animal enclosures exposes the human lungs to various particulates and chemicals. The most concerning is ammonia from animal waste and detergents used to clean and sanitize these areas.
Your respirator and filters should effectively filter ammonia amongst other particulates. Some more substantial than an N95 mask will be required when cleaning out these areas. Our 2023 buyers guide is incredibly informative and may help you decide which respirator would be best for you.
Whether cleaning up after or handling animals, it is a good idea to have eye protection. Protective goggles would be great for dealing with animals that might kick or claw. If the animals are outside, your PPE should also consider sunlight exposure.
No matter what you are doing with livestock, it would be best if you had hand protection for potential bites, cuts, and contamination. Work gloves are a great option, but even a simple protective rubber glove will protect your hands from contamination.
Of course, you want to wash your hands after interacting with animals because contamination can happen even with gloves on.
When stepping into animal pens and enclosures, your shoes or workboots can track dangerous bacteria across the farm or your home! This is how e. Coli outbreaks occur, and the fecal bacteria from livestock are tracked into the spinach fields.
To combat cross-contamination and avoid the illness reaching the agricultural worker, you can use slip-on boots or shoe covers to put on when you enter the animal enclosures and remove them when you leave.
This PPE remains at the animal enclosure and allows you to walk away without tracking contaminated bedding all over the farm or through your front door.
Working with Agricultural Equipment
Agricultural equipment is often loud, heavy, and requires many hours in direct sunlight. There are mechanical parts that can pose a serious threat to the worker. Machines like the cotton gin can be very dangerous if workers are not trained properly and outfitted with the right PPE.
(Image courtesy of Farm Management)
Ear protection from high-decibel sound is essential with agricultural equipment. Tractors and combines are loud and anything over 85 decibels can affect your hearing.
Invest in some quality earplugs or noise-reducing headphones during operation. This can make a world of difference.
Tractor rollovers are a major cause of injury and fatality in the agricultural industry. Head protection from something like a hard hat will add protection in a rollover situation or any other situation where you hit your head on agricultural equipment.
When your hands are exposed to sharp metal, electrical components, and other mechanical moving parts, it is a good idea to wear some work gloves that can protect them. Protecting your hands when using equipment is also about the proper use of the equipment while it is operational but PPE can protect you, too.
Agricultural workers face a host of hazards in their workday. This is one of the largest industries in the U.S. and is responsible for producing numerous products we depend on. Making these jobs safer is of the utmost importance.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites 876,000 agricultural, forestry, and fishing positions in the U.S.
The PPE needed to perform these jobs safely is not extensive but does require some training and an understanding of the equipment. The parts of the body that need the most protection are the lungs, eyes, head, and skin.
One piece of equipment that shows up across the board is a quality respirator to protect your lungs from a variety of hazards in the air. If you are applying pesticides, cleaning waste, or even managing grain, chemicals, and particulates in the air need to be filtered out.
While all PPE is essential to getting the job done right, investment in a quality half-face or full-face respirator will protect your lungs from the occupational hazards of agricultural work.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
You might think that knowing when to the filters would be easy. The truth is there are a lot of variables.
The life and efficacy of your filter will depend on a long list of things.
Type & Quantity of Contaminants
Storage and Care
Exertion and fitness affect how much breathing you do during work, and the type and quantity of contaminants will affect the materials in your mask differently. If chemicals indoors surround you for most of the day, your mask will need to be changed sooner than someone who works outside with chemicals.
High humidity and temperature will shorten the life of a filter—proper care and storage of your mask when not in use go a long way, too.
You could also try the NIOSH MultiVapor Version 2.2.5 App that helps you determine breakthrough times on your cartridges based on your work.
There is also an expiration on filters; you must stop using filters if you go past that date. Opened filters should also be discarded after six months, no matter how little they have been used.
The best answer for this will come from the manufacturer's instructions and recommendations. That said, if you work in a dangerous environment with dangerous particulates in the air, your equipment should be cleaned and inspected after each shift. This is your life and health that is at risk.
There is an excellent resource on the CDC website if you need to search for a specific respirator model to see if it is NIOSH Approved. All our masks and filters at MIRA Safety go above and beyond NIOSH requirements.