By Sandra Godwin

Turf growers use hazardous chemicals every day and when the rush is on it can seem easier to dismiss the potential dangers and justify taking shortcuts. This could cause injury to workers, harm the environment or put the business at risk of prosecution and hefty fines.

TurfPlus spokesman Dave Raison, who has been involved in the compliance sector for a decade, said most growers were aware of state regulations regarding chemical use and storage.

“But some best practice can fall away a bit at times when they’re busy or not focused on that area of their farm,” he said.

Common breaches include failing to ensure Safety Data Sheets are current and readily available, chemical registers that are not up-to-date, and off-label chemical use.

Dave said many chemical sheds weren’t bunded, did not have adequate ventilation or proper storage, and lacked suitable eyewash or washdown facilities.

Other problems include limited access to protective equipment such as gloves, goggles and face shields for use when mixing sprays, and neglecting to ensure chemical users are properly trained and qualified.

These are among the breaches targeted by authorities in their periodic random audits of turf farms.

The New South Wales (NSW) Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) also has undertaken several industry-wide operations in the past 10 years.

“The NSW EPA will continue to work to improve pesticide management practices within the industry. This includes ongoing monitoring of turf farming premises, enforcing regulatory requirements … to ensure that the compliance message is received loud and clear by the industry.”

Investigations in 2012 followed complaints about the misuse of Atrazine – which was deregistered for use on turf in 1998 – and resulted in 63 penalty notices being issued to turf growers, councils, golf and bowling clubs for a variety of offences.

Another blitz in 2015-16 resulted in eight fines and 44 official cautions to eight turf farming premises in the Hunter Valley. They related to chemical storage, handling and record keeping.

At the time, NSW EPA Acting Regional Manager, Karen Marler warned further action could be taken if growers did not adequately address the areas of concern.

“Pesticides used by the turf farming industry can cause serious impacts to the environment, people, waterways and wildlife if used or stored inappropriately,” she said.

“The NSW EPA will continue to work to improve pesticide management practices within the industry. This includes ongoing monitoring of turf farming premises, enforcing regulatory requirements … to ensure that the compliance message is received loud and clear by the industry.”

Queensland turf growers appear to have a better record. A spokeswoman for the Office of Industrial Relations said 114 inspections had been conducted and 15 notices issued to employers in the turf farm industry in the past 10 years.

Four of the notices related to chemical registers, labelling and Safety Data Sheets. There were no enforceable undertakings and no prosecutions during that period.

Dave said growers needed to not only do the right thing, but make sure they kept accurate records to demonstrate they had.

“It’s important to only apply chemicals according to the label,” he said. “If labels have deteriorated or they’re old, it’s best to ensure the chemicals are disposed of properly.”

As well as Atrazine, other herbicides to avoid because they are not registered for use on turf include Fluazifop (Group A) and Simazine (Group C).

“Growers need to look for alternatives, especially for pre-emergent use,” Dave said.

“There’s a number of newer products on the market, including Metolachlor (Group K) which helps prevent weed seed growth in turf.”

And while herbicides have traditionally been the main chemicals of concern for turf growers, the increasing incidence of fungal and/or viral issues in Soft Leaf Buffalo means the same caution is required when choosing fungicides.

Dave recommends all growers become familiar with the appropriate workplace health and safety and environmental laws specific to their enterprise and the State in which it operates.

chemical danger on farms

Chemical safety checklist

Can you answer ‘Yes’ to all these questions? If so, you 
are doing a great job with chemical storage.

  1. Do all your chemicals have a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) issued less than five years ago, which is available where the chemicals are stored?
  2. Are all chemicals stored in accordance with their SDS?
  3. Are chemicals stored under cover wherever possible?
  4. Chemicals are not stored on bare ground or unsealed surfaces?
  5. Are chemicals stored in designated locations away from heat, flame and other general stock items?
  6. Chemicals are not stored near drains or waterways?
  7. Only the minimum quantities of the chemicals required are stored?
  8. Storage areas are organised so that older chemicals are used first?
  9. Incompatible substances are kept separate (e.g. petrol should not be stored with chlorine as they have a combustible effect)?
  10. Labels are legible, intact and unaltered?
  11. Chemicals have not passed their expiry date (where there is one on the label)?
  12. Are chemicals in their original containers?
  13. Chemicals are only decanted into another container just prior to use?
  14. Containers of decanted chemicals, not used immediately, are labelled with the name of the chemical, a hazard pictogram or a hazard statement consistent with the correct classification of the chemical?
  15. Chemical containers are not leaking and are closed?
  16. Chemical storage areas have adequate bunding for the quantities stored?
  17. Bunded areas are intact and do not leak?
  18. There is no liquid build-up in bunded areas?
  19. Containers in which chemicals have been stored are rinsed three times before disposal?
  20. Are “Staff only” or “Restricted Area” signs displayed in relevant areas?

Note: This checklist does not cover all the requirements for compliance with the
relevant chemical storage and handling regulations of every state in Australia.
Source: Matt Murphy, GrowEQ