Every year, many people die as a result of accidents at the workplace or due to diseases associated with the workplace. The International Labor Organization estimates over 2.78 million deaths each year globally, as a result of work-related hazards. Occupational safety and health issues related to agriculture are important owing to how important agriculture is to Kenya’s economy.
Findings from a national, population-based household survey that was done in 2015 involving 4,484 adults showed that 16.9% of total work-related injuries happened on the farm. The statistics might be an inadequate representation of the national status as far as agriculture-related injuries and deaths are concerned, showing the need for more research in this area.
Agriculture is one of the most hazardous occupations in Kenya. Farmers are exposed to many toxic chemicals such as pesticides. While pesticides are designed to be used for pests, they have ingredients that are highly toxic to human health. All over the world, increased use of pesticides in agriculture has attracted attention from various spheres, with a lot of research being done on pesticides, particularly checking on likely effects of pesticides to human health among others. It has been a fruitful venture since many pesticides have been banned after being identified as harmful to human health. The EU has been very keen on keeping track of this process, which is a step to emulate since it is for the safety of consumers and farm operators
Unfortunately for Kenya, there is no sufficient data on epidemiological studies on pesticides. This is particularly sad because Kenya is heavily dependent on pesticide for farming, some of which are banned in other countries. This means that farmers every day are exposed to these pesticides. While farmers get direct exposure in the fields, agriculture also presents hazards to people not directly working in the industry. It affects family members who live close to the farms, with children and pregnant women being highly vulnerable. The effects are also amplified when Kenyans consume foods laced with pesticide residues, exposing them to disease-causing elements which then, accumulate gradually. Chronic non-communicable diseases are a huge burden to Kenya’s economy, as well as the society. There is no doubt that some of these illnesses are as a result of these pesticides, which means that they should be withdrawn.
Besides physical injuries, farmers also undergo mental health issues like anxiety, depression and suicide. Various social, environmental, and financial factors increase stress among farmers. Issues of land ownership are common causes of conflicts. Land wrangles could be due to fighting over inherited land, where some people, at times women, fight for fair allocations. One could buy some land but then lose it due to irregular procurement. A recent issue was in the news headlines of a company that was asking people to invest in greenhouse projects, with handsome returns. It turned out to be a scam. All these different factors contribute to stress levels. These, and many other factors contribute to mental health problems.
It is a requirement that workers who operate around risky or dangerous workplaces to observe strict measures to stay safe. For every decent workplace, there exist guidelines/policies that give a framework as to how workers ought to operate, in order to prevent accidents or deaths. In agriculture, farmers should embrace using protective equipment in order to protect themselves. For instance, an overall, gumboots, face masks and gloves should always be put on when using pesticides. The same way the government has successfully campaigned for the use of masks and gloves to combat coronavirus the same strategy can be employed with farmers. Agriculture is and will always be important to Kenya and so the government should invest in farmers’ health for a better, healthier workforce.