19 August 1997

Sheep dippers snubbed

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 illnesses among dippers were often ignored or rejected," he said during the opening session of a three-day conference in Edinburgh on organophosphates, agriculture and the 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.

"Policies to control sheep dip hazards failed to respond to certain events and information, failed to handle uncertainty, and reflected a particular scientific approach to occupational health risk management," said Prof Watterson.

"Until recently occupational hygiene studies neglected sheep dipping. Research findings have been ignored, particularly those concerning the chemical exposures of agricultural workers to dips and dipping techniques. And threshold limit values have not been applied to agriculture and there has been a lack of monitoring.

"Toxicology research on sheep dips has been lacking or ignored, neurological and other reported effects of OPs on the immune system were played down.

There was a failure to acknowledge either the limits of knowledge or the controversy about models of OP action with regard to neurological effects," said Prof Watterson.