Occupational exposures to agricultural dust by Western Australian wheat-belt farmers during seeding operations.
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Agricultural operations routinely expose farm workers to high levels of soil dust and other airborne particulate matter that have been linked to adverse health outcomes. The main objective of this study was to investigate exposure to agricultural dust during seeding operations of Western Australian farm workers. Twenty-one wheat-belt farms were recruited to participate in the study. Data were collected over the six-week seeding period of April - June 2014. Each farm was visited once, and workers were asked to complete a workplace survey that asked questions related to minimizing exposure to agricultural dusts and occupational health and safety issues on their farm. Farmers were also asked to simultaneously participate in monitoring of personal exposure to inhalable or respirable dust along with real-time monitoring for particulate air pollution in their tractor cabin. Sampling was undertaken for 4-hrs. The results showed that, on average, Western Australian farmers were exposed to personal respirable dust concentrations above the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists recommended guideline values, with some farmers being exposed to concentrations up to seven times higher than the value for respirable dusts. In comparison, in-cabin dust concentrations were lower, although some individual tractors recorded intermittently higher levels, which might be attributed to the type of work activity or process being undertaken. Remaining in tractor cabins with closed doors and windows with properly maintained seals might minimize the infiltration of hazardous dusts and may provide some protection from dust exposures. Future research should focus on educating and providing farm owners and workers with more information on adopting work processes and procedures related to minimising harmful exposures to agricultural dusts.
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