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Farm workers

Farm workers
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Health tips for casual farm labourers

Taking a series of casual farm jobs across a continent is a time-honoured tradition for backpackers. But do you know the possible risks to your health?

Get your shots done

When you visit your travel health adviser eight to six weeks before you leave, let them know that you will be working in agriculture or forestry so that they can give you tailored advice and a vaccination regime that will give thorough protection.

Heavy lifting

Lifting the wrong load in the wrong way can cause long-term damage to your back. Before you start agricultural work, learn how to lift safely, and have a good think about your limits. The Health and Safety Executive’s Agriculture – manual handling article has some tips.

Farm safety

If you feel your employer is not giving you the safety equipment or the training you need, have the confidence to refuse the task. Do not try to use machinery you are unfamiliar with, and be honest about your skills and experience.

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

Make sure your work clothes are suitable for the job: closed toed boots are better than sandals or flip-flops. You may want to bring your own gloves, too.

Insect-borne illnesses

Working outside you will be exposed to all sorts of insects and their bites can be painful and uncomfortable in themselves, too, particularly if you have an allergic reaction. But did you know that insects also carry unpleasant and dangerous diseases? Protect yourself from bites and stings with a good insect repellent and by wearing clothing that provides good coverage. You may want to sleep under a mosquito net.

Ticks can also be a problem in some parts of the world, and they can carry several 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

You will be exposed to the sun working outdoors, and in order to avoid sunburn, which can lead to cancer in later life as well as being very uncomfortable, you must use sunscreen and wear a hat. Go for clothing with good coverage, too. Bring plenty of sunscreen with you, as it may be hard to get hold of in a rural area.

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. If you have concerns about accommodation standards, ask if you can pitch a tent outside.