Poultry dust is a mixture of birdfeed, straw, bird droppings, feathers, mites, bacteria and fungi. Poultry dust can be created by doing a variety of tasks such as laying down bedding, routine crop maintenance, catching poultry and manure removal. For those working in agriculture, respiratory disease is a major cause for concern. If untreated, occupational respiratory disease can lead to permanent breathing problems and being unable to work. Symptoms of respiratory disease includes coughing, bringing up phlegm, wheezing, watering eyes and sneezing. An asthma attack occurs when the airways of the lungs becomes obstructed. A person’s response to dust depends on the nature of the dust, the duration and the airborne particle size. Poultry dust particles, in the range of 5-7 microns, can penetrate into the gas exchange region of the lungs.
According to the law, workers that are exposed to poultry dust, work under the regulations according to COSHH, (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002). This sets out the legal requirements to protect workers against health risks arising from hazardous substances used at work. Different PPE may need to be used, including respiratory protective equipment. Different protection may be needed for the different activities. Risk assessments and regular heath surveillances should be carried out for workers. The health of the workers should always be considered when building poultry houses, purchasing vehicles and introducing systems for routine and periodic tasks.
To protect oneself, the first point of call is the lungs. One should wear Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE), for example dust masks, visors and air fed hoods. The respirator must fit one’s face properly. Facial hair affects the performance of close-fitting respirators so the face should be clean shaven. RPE should not be removed during activities, for example, it should not be removed to talk. This equipment should be used according to the manufacturer’s instruction and staff properly trained in its use.
Straw should be clean, dry and mould free. Application by hand should be minimised and mechanical spreading considered. Shed ventilation should be used with maximum effect. Dust extracted wood shavings should be used if laying down these. Flock management includes a range of tasks such as weighing, beak trimming, inspection and collection of stray eggs. The health risks must be assessed for the individual tasks. There should be shed ventilation and workers should wear RPE. The birds and their litter should be disturbed as little as possible. When cleaning out the bird hatches and areas, as little dust should be raised as possible. One could use mopping and vacuuming, rather than using a broom. The workers’ activities/stations should be rotated to reduce the individual worker’s exposure. If using a pressurised water system to remove manure, waterproof suits, wellington boots and safety goggle should be used. RPE should also be used at all times. Many egg production farms have conveyor systems that capture and remove manure to another part of the plant for disposal.