Farmers and grainstore managers face a critical shortage of dust masks ahead of this summer’s harvest due to soaring public demand for personal protective equipment.
The shortage has been fuelled by people buying up dust masks to to limit the spread of coronavirus, even though wearing respiratory protective equipment in situations other than healthcare is not advised by the UK government.
“It’s absolute madness,” said Lincolnshire farmer Andrea Pettitt.
“Farmers are classed as key workers – so why can’t we get hold of them just like the NHS? It’s crazy. You just can’t get them for love or money.”
Mrs Pettitt said she and her husband, Mark, could easily get through 80 masks in three weeks during the summer.
She said she needed to wear an appropriately approved mask at all times when pushing up grain and working with the grain dryer.
Grainstore keeper Jo Watson, of Fisherton Manor Farm, Wiltshire, took to social media in a plea to get hold of masks.
“It’s a dire situation – as a grainstore keeper, they are very important and I cannot source them anywhere,” she tweeted.
Simon Wilcox, UK farm origination manager for grain traders Cefetra, said the company had enough masks in stock ahead of harvest.
He said his supplier didn’t have any FFP3 masks but did have masks with data sheets showing they conformed to the same standards.
Mr Wilcox said this harvest would be particularly busy because Cefetra had just signed a long-term agreement that would see Great Tew Grain Processing in Oxfordshire become a key processing facility with a 58,000t capacity, including grain drying and cleaning services.
Kristian Dunham, of the farmer-owned AF Group, said he had been talking to suppliers for the past six weeks to get hold of dust masks.
He said he hadn’t managed to get hold of FFP3 masks but he had managed to source FFP2 masks.
“It was an absolute nightmare to get hold of them.
“Most stock coming in has already been bought out by people – either that or stock is coming in such small quantities that it has gone by the time it gets here. It has taken a long time.”
Some 800,000 masks were due to come into the country by mid-May, added Mr Dunham.
“It sounds like a huge amount, but if a huge conglomerate decided it needed them, they could be swallowed up very quickly.”
What dust mask do I need?
The Health and Safety Executive says farmers should wear appropriate respiratory protective equipment for dust-generating activities – including exposure to grain or poultry dust – where risk cannot be eliminated or sufficiently reduced by other means.
All respirators provided for use at work must be CE marked to show they have been tested to a recognised standard.
They must also be marked with that standard, which for disposable respirators is EN149:2001.
Additional markings – such as FFP1, FFP2 or FFP3 – indicate the protection level if the respirator is a good fit and used correctly.
The higher the number, the better the protection. An FFP3 respirator is advisable if you are exposed to high levels of grain dust or mould spores.