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Farm workers

Farm workers
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Health tips for casual farm labourers

For many backpackers following farm work across a continent is a wonderful way to see the world while earning a bit of cash. But agricultural work does pose some risks and casual workers should take a few simple steps to protect their own health.

Get your shots done

Your travel health adviser will want to know if your travel plans include agricultural work as this will have an impact on the advice they give you. Make an appointment eight to six weeks before you depart and bring a list of all your planned activities.

Heavy lifting

Labour often involves lifting, and if you use a bad technique you can cause permanent injury to your back. Understand your limits, don’t be afraid to say no, and before you go, learn and practise the best and safest ways to lift. My Health Alberta has some advice on proper lifting technique.

Farm safety

It is important that you have the confidence to protect your health. Are you prepared, for example, to refuse a task if your employer has not given you the right safety equipment or training? You should be honest about your skills and experience, particularly with machinery and tools.

Ask about the chemicals you will be exposed to, and what protective clothing you should wear.

Think about your work clothes. Are they up to the job? Your footwear should have closed toes, and you may need boots with steel toecaps for some positions. Sandals and flip-flops are often banned! To be sure of a good fit, bring your own gloves.

Insect-borne illnesses

An insect bite can be painful and annoying, particularly if you are allergic, but did you know insects carry dangerous diseases, too? Avoid getting bitten by covering up and by using a reliable insect repellent. Consider sleeping under a mosquito net, too.

Ticks can also be a problem in some parts of the world, and they can carry a number of dangerous illnesses, such as tick-borne encephalitis. Keep your limbs covered and avoid bashing paths through long grass. Check yourself carefully for ticks and extract any that you find with a tick-remover, a tool specially designed for the job.

Working in the heat

Fruit picking may be done in very hot weather and in fields with little shade. You will want to avoid sunburn as it is painful and could stop you working; and it can also cause cancer in later life. Slap on a hat; and slop on lots of good quality sunscreen. It may be hard to get hold of sun cream in a rural area, so bring a good supply. Clothing with good limb coverage is a good idea, too – this will also protect you from insect bites.

Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of safe water. Take a water bottle or two with you so that you do not have to rely on potentially tainted field taps.

Safe accommodation

Before you commit to a job, take a look at where you will be sleeping. Does it look as if it has been cleaned recently? Is there evidence of a pest infestation or mildew? Both of these could affect your health, and you need to be particularly careful with dust and mildew if you have a respiratory condition such as asthma. You may find it more comfortable to bring a tent with you and sleep in that.