Many farmers are exposed to dusty environments, or use chemicals and sprays that could damage their lungs and create breathing issues in later life, attendees at the NI Agri-Rural Health Forum were told last Thursday.

“There is good evidence farmers have poorer respiratory health than the general population. Masks have a place but they are the last line of defence. We need to look at other solutions,” suggested Bryan Monson from the Health and Safety Executive for NI (HSENI).

While the advice is to wear a suitable mask in a dusty and enclosed environment, Monson said that in practice, it can be difficult to keep it on over a prolonged period of physical activity (greater than 20 minutes).

His challenge to farmers is to consider what other options could be employed such as wetting dusty materials, using vacuum sweepers or utilising low-dust alternatives such as granules or pellets. Filters in the likes of tractor cabs should be regularly replaced.

Where farmers do experience a persistent new cough, or shortness of breath, it is important to get this checked out as early treatment is important.

Don’t ignore health

Making a similar point, Dr Sam Strain from Animal Health and Welfare NI urged farmers not to ignore potential health issues. He drew analogies from his own career in veterinary practice, where a vet might not always be able to offer an accurate diagnosis at the first visit.

One example was of a trembling cow, with the owner suspecting BSE. It subsequently turned out the animal had consumed slug pellets and had Metaldehyde poisoning.

“It is OK to not know. It is not OK not to try to find out. Find out what is going on,” said Strain.

The NI Agri-Rural Health Forum was set up in 2021 and is co-ordinated by Rural Support. The forum brings together various rural businesses, government and voluntary organisations with their mission to improve the health and wellbeing of people in rural communities.

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