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Agriculture & Abattoirs

In many agricultural and abattoir jobs, occupational health medicals are required even before workers start their employment.

Strict occupational health and safety regulations apply throughout the agricultural industry, from poultry and wine farms to abattoirs. Many diseases must be reported to the relevant authorities because the health and safety risks are so many and potentially so far-reaching.

This means employees must take their workers’ health and safety medicals very seriously. In abattoirs, for example, any worker who handles chicken or red meat must be medically certified fit to work prior to entering the workplace.

This requirement falls under a legally mandated hygiene management programme (HMP) that every abattoir owner must implement. It focuses on both the personal hygiene and medical fitness of workers, since either can have a profound impact on food health and safety.

Abattoir owners must keep documentary proof of their adherence to the HMP, including workers’ medical certification that they were fit to work with meat and edible products prior to their employment.

Beyond the abattoir, farm workers involved in the farming of animal products or field crops face many occupational health hazards. These include:

Being exposed to animals that can transmit diseases such as avian flu, ringworm and bovine tuberculosis.
Grain dust exposure in silos, which can lead to respiratory illnesses such as asthma and allergies.
Pesticide exposure, which affects handlers, harvesters and anyone working near a recently sprayed field.
Muscoskeletal injuries because of repetitive or forceful movement, heavy lifting, prolonged awkward postures and vibration.
Hearing loss because of noise exposure (think tractors, harvesters, chainsaws, squealing pigs).
Heat or cold stress from working long hours in extreme temperatures.
Medicals in the Abattoir Industry

It is clear that farm and abattoir workers, depending on their risk exposure, could require pre-employment, periodical/annual as well as exit medicals. These should entail a full medical examination with biological monitoring. Certain vaccinations, lung function tests and chest X-rays may also be required.

Furthermore, workers should be given appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and outer protection, as well as masks. To combat hearing loss, which occurs gradually but is permanent and irreversible, we recommend earmuffs and plugs for workers exposed to noise.

FAQs

01. Why is biological monitoring important for farmworkers working with pesticides?
Biological monitoring is the best method to identify whether farm workers exposed to pesticides have chemical intoxication or longer-term health effects. It is particularly useful for chemicals absorbed through the skin – a common way of ingesting pesticides. Although some symptoms of pesticide poisoning will be immediately obvious after exposure, other effects could take years to be noticed. Exposure to pesticides can cause serious health effects over the long run, so workers at risk should undergo regular and thorough medical surveillance.
02. How often should farm and abattoir workers undergo a medical examination?
Depending on the work they do, we recommend a pre-employment examination prior to risk exposure, periodical/annual examinations during times of risk exposure, and an exit examination when an employee is leaving a risk area.
03. What other health issues influencing my workers’ wellbeing should I consider?
Farmworkers in South Africa are known to struggle with HIV/Aids and related diseases, lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, and alcohol and substance abuse. Stress factors such as financial worries can also have a negative impact on their health and productivity.

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