COLUMBIA, Mo. – Farm workers operating machinery in dusty conditions or handling toxic materials should take extra safety precautions by using a personal respirator rather then relying on thin paper masks, say University of Missouri extension specialists.
“Most of us have some experience with what I call nuisance masks – those little white masks that have a flexible metallic strip to fit over your nose,” said Bill Casady.
Such masks may provide a false sense of security as the user breathes in dusty air around the mask’s edges, he said.
Exhaling and sweat dampens the mask, trapping moist air inside.
A better fit. Personal respirators now fit the face better and newer technologies have increased the comfort level.
An exhalation valve provides a one-way exit for the warm, moist air so that unlike the paper masks, each breath is similar to the first.
Since the mask is a personal item, it is selected and adjusted to fit the user’s face, he said.
“Dusts are common to farming. All dusts have the potential to cause health problems, but some organic or toxic dusts may permanently impair a farm worker’s health,” said Karen Funkenbusch, farm health safety specialist.
“Don’t rely on a standard painter’s mask to protect you from mold or grain dusts.”
Gases. While filter masks may provide adequate protection from common agricultural molds, dusts and chaff, they will not protect the wearer from agricultural gases, she said.
A self-contained breathing apparatus similar to those worn by firefighters is needed while working in oxygen-deficient areas, she said.
Farmer’s lung, an allergic disease caused by breathing moldy dust, affects from 2 percent to 10 percent of farmers depending on local conditions.
An additional 40 percent may have had exposure to moldy dust, Casady said.
Cleaning. Farm workers may be exposed to potentially hazardous concentrations of aflatoxin B1, particularly during bin clean-out or animal feeding in an enclosed building.
Aflatoxin-carrying particles range from seven microns down to a single micron.
Look for a High Efficiency Particle Arresting (HEPA) filter that protects against spores and bacteria of this size, he said.
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