Covid-19 ‘reinforces need to protect agricultural workers’ from exposure to disease

A new report has shown that the Covid-19 pandemic “reinforces the need to protect workers from exposure to biological agents” and the related health effects for those working in the agricultural sector.

The report by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) provides details of a project addressing workplace exposure to biological agents.

Biological agents include bacteria, viruses, fungi and internal human parasites, some of which can potentially cause illness.

The report outlines that workplace exposure to biological agents is “widespread and linked to a large number of health problems; including infectious diseases, allergies and cancer”.

High-risk occupations include agriculture

The research looked at five sectors / types of occupation that are particularly at risk of exposure to illness, including animal-related occupations and arable farming.

Within the agricultural sector, animal-related occupations that were identified as being at particular risk include abattoir and slaughterhouse workers, animal farmers, laboratory workers and vets.

Among abattoir workers, bird-related zoonoses, bacteria-related diseases and tick-borne diseases may occur more frequently than in other workplaces.

The report outlined that animal vets are at risk of getting infections through direct animal contact or bites by vectors (ticks or lice).

Organic dust, which facilitates the spread of bacteria and virsuses, was identified as a high-priority risk and is mainly caused in farming occupations by intensive breeding of animals and dust generated when feeding animals and cleaning.

In arable farming, tick-borne diseases and lung diseases are reported frequently and Lyme disease is also predicted to be a significant health concern in the coming decades, because of the spread of ticks due to changes in climatic conditions.

‘Urgent measures needed to protect workers’

According to the report, epidemics like Covid-19 show urgent measures are needed to protect workers from the impact of a “transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans”.

An estimated 5,000 workers die each year in the EU alone as a result of work-related infectious diseases. The report also looked at emerging risks, including multi-resistant bacteria and the wider spread of infectious agents.

“Urgent measures are needed to protect workers from infectious diseases beyond the provision of protective equipment,” EU-OSHA’s executive director Christa Sedlatschek added.