19 September 1997
Sheep-dippers snubbed over health

By Allan Wright

HEALTH and safety of sheep dippers has been ignored by scientists and politicians, warns Andrew Watterson, professor of occupational and environmental health at De Montfort University, Leicester.

“Little was done in the UK to produce, monitor, and enforce effective health and safety laws to protect sheep-dippers, rather than sheep. Reports of illness among dippers were often ignored or rejected,” he said during the opening session of a three-day conference in Edinburgh on organophosphates, agriculture and environment.

A public health policy to protect sheep-dippers and their communities from a range of occupational and environmental health hazards was still lacking, said Prof Watterson.

Excusing the lack of protection by claiming that the dangers only became apparent with hindsight should not be used to exonerate policy failures, he said.

Meanwhile, scientists have recorded a higher-than-normal incidence of spontaneous abortion among the wives of horticulture workers using chemical sprays in an intensive agricultural region of Spain.

The study of 105 workers in Almeria investigated the effects on health of exposure to pesticides, including organophosphates.

Antonio Hernandez from Granada University in Spain, told the conference that 37% of sprayers showed toxic signs.

“There was a higher incidence of spontaneous abortion in their wives, an excess of contact dermatitis, and an increase in depression and neurological disorders,” he said.

A study of 251 suicide cases in the same area showed a strong positive association between suicide and exposure to pesticides, he said.

  • For the full story, see this weeks issue of Farmers Weekly, September 19-25, 1997.