Friday, December 30, 2011

When will Indian scientists start taking Occupational Health and Safety seriously?

I read this article in The Hindu this morning. Although on the face of it it looked very interesting especially in the Indian context, especially from a man who is the Assistant Director of Horticulture who is constantly trying to help the farmers no doubt, when I looked at the photograph something struck me although did not shock me at all.

The photo clearly shows a demonstration to a group of farmers. The demonstration is the use of an hand pump sprayer with the pump running through the use of a small battery operated via a solar panel. In the west no one would consider this as monumental however in energy starved India, these inventions make much difference to a subsistence farmer with 1-5 acres of land.

What struck me was a blatant disregard for safety in the demonstration especially by an Assistant Director of Horticulture whose "duty of care" it is to educate people especially farmers. Even though there would be no chemical involved in this instance a key thing to do while demonstrating an equipment of this nature is to wear safety personal protection equipment (PPE).

One might argue that in a country like India it is not affordable for a subsistence farmer. I argue and say that not wearing the PPE is not affordable in India. A simple PPE such as a full length pant/dhothi, full length shirt, head covered with an old towel to cover all hair, face covered with a large kerchief (except eyes) and hands covered with gloves/plastic bags would be far more desirable than nothing as indicated in this photo. These items can be washed separately with soap and water (with out the water running into the river) and kept separately and only worn during spray operations. For women old Saree instead of pant/shirt will do. This is affordable.

In this blog (past posts) I have already shown that Indian government still has not banned many chemicals which have been banned in the west due to harm they cause for humans, unborn babies, animals and the ecosystem.

There seems to be a callus disregard for all manner of safety whether it be safety systems in organizations, buildings, agriculture or manufacture sectors. Once an accident such as that of Endosulfan happens the government pays some money as compensation, the people who sell the product are not held accountable by legislations and litigation and farmers die.

It is therefore irresponsible for people in authority who have a legal and moral obligation to teach farmers occupational health and safety practices to demonstrate a tool in this manner. When used with chemicals this can be immensely harmful. Not only do the farmers suffer due to the use uncalibrated equipment such as these excess droplets fall on the vegetables/crops leading to chemical residues and harm to the environment and people living in surrounding areas (eg., Bhopal incidence).

One should note that for a 15 liter spray with a hand pump generally 70-80 pump presses are required to get a pressure of 3PSi.

I feel tremendously sorry for the Indian farmer who manages to feed the country at a very high cost to his and his family's health. Urban Indians couldn't care less about it except to say "tut tut" now and again and get on with their daily activity. How many urban middle class and above middle class families can not donate a pair of pant shirts/sarees to a farmer?. It is this disgusting disregard for human life which will bite India badly in future as many farmers either due to sickness or exhaustion or old age will leave farming. Once they leave mostly the land will be sold to a building developer. Over 8 million farmers in India have already left the land. Over 200,000 farmers have committed suicides. Indians and India claim to be a fountain of knowledge and wisdom. Where is it when it comes to treatment of the poor and needy?

Please donate unwanted pant/shirt or sarees to farmers and these people are paying with their health to feed you. You are welcome to write to this man to his address below or make comment on this blog. Please keep comments polite.

Solar-powered sprayer that solves many problems (The Hindu 30-12-2011)

M. J. Prabu

VIABLE ALTERNATIVE: David demonstrating to farmers the use of the solar sprayer. Photo: Special Arrangement

Once charged during the night it can be operated for nearly eight hours. One need not be a genius to develop any commonly used devices. Take the case of the humble yet important knapsack manual sprayer (hung on the shoulders). Though many models are available on the shelves, priced at different rates, most of them last for only a few years.

“Regularly filling them with water, pesticides and fuel (in case of fuel operated ones) makes it difficult to lift and hang them on the shoulder. After an hour of spraying, the weight of the machine creates a backache and shoulder pain for farmers,” says Mr. David Raja Beleau, Assistant Director of Horticulture Kadayam, Tamil Nadu, who developed a solar powered battery operated sprayer for farmers.

Big effort
In the commonly available ones, the user needs to exert a lot of effort to push the lever up and down to create the pressure to spray. Sometimes when the pressure becomes uneven, the nozzle gets blocked and the farmer has to spend time to rectify it. “Being a farmer and working among them for long years, I decided to make some alterations in the existing design and fitted solar panels and a battery unit to it.,” says Mr. David.

An electric motor operated by a 12 volt 7 Amp rechargeable battery, powers the sprayer which has a capacity of 16 litres. Once charged during the night, it can be operated for nearly eight hours and there is no need for petrol or any other fuel to operate the device. While spraying in the field, the battery can be further charged by switching on the solar power system attached to the sprayer. The solar panel is attached to a helmet and connected to the battery. Minimizes drudgery.“The sprayer not only minimizes the drudgery of the work but is also more effective than the conventional ones. “Since villages still get electricity for a short time, that too during odd hours, this solar sprayer just might be the answer,” explains Mr. David. The solar power system in the sprayer can also facilitate lighting of ‘wireless light traps' that control insect pests and reduces the number of insecticide sprays by fifty per cent, cutting the cost of cultivation for the farmer. This reduces pesticide residue in the products thereby improving the quality of the products. The light traps can also control mosquitoes effectively .

While demonstrating to the farmers in Tirunelveli a farm labourer who gets hired by others for spraying said that it was just the equipment he dreamt of when the cost of fuel was increasing everyday. A woman farmer who bought the sprayer said ‘It is easy for me to carry the load on my back and spray easily on my jasmine crops. Seems like a boon. Another farmer from Kolli hills who came to see the demonstration of the device remarked that, “in a remote area like ours power failures are common occurrence. This device seems to be a boon for us.”

“That the idea of converting existing battery powered knapsack equipment into solar powered one emerged because villages still did not have enough electricity to either run the sprayers or to charge the batteries for any single spraying operation. The solar power system is priced at Rs. 3,500. Farmers can buy it and fit to the existing devices they use,” says Mr. David.

Those who are interested can contact Mr.David Assistant Director of Horticulture Kadayam through his mobile number 9486285704 or

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