21 April 1995

Safety should be the top priority

HELPING to judge this years Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year competition is farm manager Ian Robertson. Responsible for the cropping on 1295ha (3200 acres) on a large estate in north-west Suffolk, his involvement with sprayers and agrochemicals goes back over 23 years.

Safety has been a watch word for Mr Robertson from the beginning of his farming career – both for the operator and the environment.

"Many of the products which were damaging to wildlife are now no longer approved and have now been replaced with safer versions – but there are still a few which pose potential threats if they are not used carefully," he says.

Mr Robertson believes work performed by the Pesticide Safety Executive – the body responsible for assessing the suitability of new products for the agricultural industry – has had a strong bearing on the quality of chemicals now offered to farmers. "The types of packaging in which chemicals are now presented has also improved although there is still plenty of scope for improvement through rationalisation of cap sizes and pack sizes," he insists.

"If spray technology is to progress to ever safer working practices developments such as direct chemical transfer, returnable containers and chemical injection need a great deal of co-operation between chemical and sprayer manufacturers."

Much more safe

Even so, Mr Robertson is convinced that with the machinery and products available to todays spray operators they are now able to perform their duties more safely than ever before.

"Sprayers are now equipped with several devices designed to reduce operator exposure to concentrated chemical – low-level induction hoppers and clean water tanks, for example – but the most influential factor has been the degree of operator training. Standards, knowledge and general awareness have all improved in recent years, far beyond that of most other farm operations."Mr Robertson explains.

"And this is where I believe the Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year competition scores. It brings to the fore the expertise operators have and provides a platform for the very best to shine through – setting a challenge to new contestants."