17 May 1996


By Rebecca Austin

ONLY 10% of workers wear the correct protective clothing when dipping sheep, according to a recent survey carried out in Eire by its Health and Safety Association (HSA).

It also revealed 32% wear leggings and a coat; 26% leggings only and a staggering 32% none of the recommended protective clothing.

Dr Tom Donnelly, an occupational medical adviser with the HSA, explains organophosphorus dips, which were developed in the 1930s by the Germans as nerve gas, are non-selective when absorbed through the skin. They should therefore always be regarded as hazardous.

Symptoms take three to 24 hours to appear following dermal exposure. They include:

&#8226 Sweating and aching (like flu)

&#8226 Fatigue and weakness

&#8226 Depression

&#8226 Poor memory and concentration

&#8226 Peripheral neuropathy

(usually legs)

&#8226 Chronic fatigue syndrome

&#8226 Multiple chemical sensitivity

"If somebody does get dip on them they must immediately remove clothing and wash their skin," says Dr Donnelly. "Use an eyewash if eyes are splashed and keep a supply of activated charcoal in case somebody swallows any dip. There are also two antidotes available: atropine and pralidoxime. And if it is necessary to go to hospital take the dips chemical data sheet along so further measures can be taken. And remember the onus is on the farmer to remind his GP that OP dip poisoning might be the reason he isnt feeling too well."

Concentrated dip is 200 times more powerful than when diluted so handlers must wear a facial mask when mixing dip and topping up, says Dr Donnelly. Failing to remove clothes also increases the risk of contamination. Leather belts, which are good absorbents, act as contaminants for days after dipping – as do wooden dipping handles.

Producers who would rather avoid OPs should consider the alternatives. "Injectables can lead to a problem with meat residues and spray-ons may create aerosols," warns Dr Donnelly.

"Taking the dip to the sheep, as you do with mobile dips, reduces splash back as compared with taking sheep to the dip. And dip on light, windy days to improve ventilation. Never indoors or on a still day. Rotating workers also reduces the chances of contamination, as well as spreading the work load."n

Courtesy of the Institute of Medicine, Edinburgh, and the HSE.

When florescent dye is added to dip parts of the body which have been splashed with dip show up white under ultra violet light. In this case no protective clothing was worn during dipping and most of the body has been contaminated.