Influence of risk perceptions and social context on working for water herbicide sprayers' Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) compliance in the Western Cape of South Africa

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The exposure of workers and farmers to herbicides in middle- and low-income countries is an important public health issue with a significant negative impact on their short- and long-term health status. Besides the possible acute effects, long term exposures to low doses of herbicides leads to accumulation in the body which might lead to chronic health effects. The exposure to herbicides of substances is associated with different types of cancers, Parkinson’s, insulin resistance, obesity and endocrine disruptions. Maternal exposure to herbicides have been associated with the prevalence of small-for-gestational-age and foetal gastroschisis. Farmers and workers from low-income countries are at greater risk of exposure given the spraying techniques used, deficient risk communication tools and the inadequate or lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) use. In addition, underlying factors such as poor nutrition and immune system status might increase the risk to develop acute or chronic illness related to herbicide exposure. The Working for Water (WfW) programme was launched in 1995 to control invasive alien vegetation while simultaneously contributing to alleviate poverty. The programme, which relies on chemical and hand/mechanical removal mechanisms, is now running in all nine South African provinces and is one of the world’s largest programmes addressing removal of invasive alien vegetation. Despite the extensive policy and management efforts of the WfW programme, workers are at risk of harmful exposures to herbicides and therefore new exposure reduction interventions must be implemented. This study is part of a larger project, which is focused on developing a peer-based intervention to improve WfW current prevention strategies.

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