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versión On-line ISSN 2521-9766versión impresa ISSN 1405-3195

Agrociencia vol.44 no.3 Texcoco abr./may. 2010


Protección vegetal


Pesticide risk perception and use of personal protective equipment among young and old cotton growers in northern Greece


Percepción del riesgo por pesticidas y uso de equipo protector personal entre productores de algodón jóvenes y viejos en el norte de Grecia


Christos Asterios Damalas1* , Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi2


1 Department of Agricultural Development of Pieria, 28th Octovriou 40, 601 00, Katerini, Greece, *Autor responsable: (

2 Department of Agricultural Extension and Education, College of Agriculture, University of Tehran. Karaj, Iran.


Received: February, 2009.
Approved: November, 2009.



Conventionally grown cotton receives many pesticide treatments each year, but protective measures of growers during pesticide handling may vary considerably. A survey to cotton growers was conducted in northern Greece to study the perception risk to pesticide and the use of personal protective equipment in young (below 35 years old) and old (above 50 years old) growers. Both groups showed high acceptability about using pesticides, considering them necessary for high yield, product quality and pest management for cotton in Greece. Young growers revealed higher levels of risk perception due to adverse effects of pesticide on users' health than old growers, who felt that pesticides are safe if used according to the manufacturer's instructions and less hazardous compared with other farming activities. Moreover, young growers showed higher levels of adoption of pest management practices related to Integrated Pest Management (IPM) than old growers. Hat and boots were the most commonly used protective items, but most of both growers groups reported low frequency of use for gloves, goggles, face mask, coveralls, and respirator. The use of these items was considerably lower particularly for the old than for the young growers; the respirator was not used at all. Old growers showed worryingly low use of some protective items, which were more frequently used by young growers.

Key words: attitudes, awareness, beliefs, health hazards, safety.



El algodón cultivado convencionalmente recibe cada año varios tratamientos con pesticidas, pero las medidas protectoras de los agricultores durante el manejo de los pesticidas pueden variar considerablemente. Se realizó una encuesta con productores de algodón en el norte de Grecia para estudiar la percepción del riesgo de los pesticidas y el uso de equipo personal protector durante su manejo, entre agricultores jóvenes (menos de 35 años) y viejos (más de 50 años). Ambos grupos de productores mostraron alta aceptación del uso de pesticidas, considerándolos como necesarios para obtener altos rendimientos, calidad del producto, y manejo de plagas en algodón en Grecia. Los productores jóvenes mostraron niveles más altos de percepción del riesgo a efectos adversos de los pesticidas en la salud, que los productores viejos, quienes expresaron que los pesticidas son seguros si se usan según las instrucciones de los fabricantes y menos peligrosos en comparación con otras actividades agrícolas. Además, los productores jóvenes mostraron niveles más altos de adopción de prácticas de manejo de plagas relacionada con el Manejo Integrado de Plagas (MIP), que los productores viejos. Los artículos protectores más comúnmente usados fueron sombreros y botas, pero la mayoría de ambos grupos de productores reportaron una baja frecuencia de uso de guantes, gafas protectoras, máscaras, overoles y respirador. El uso de estos artículos fue considerablemente bajo, particularmente menor entre los productores viejos que entre los jóvenes, en tanto que el respirador no se usó en absoluto. Los productores viejos mostraron un preocupante bajo uso de algunos artículos protectores, que fueron usados más frecuentemente por los productores jóvenes.

Palabras clave: actitudes, conciencia, creencias, peligros para la salud, seguridad.



Farming is one of the most hazardous of all industries, often associated with high rates of occupational injury and illness (Arcury and Quandt, 1998) and agricultural workers can be exposed to several environmental hazards potentially harmful to their health. Increasing pesticide use as the main method of pest control in areas with intensive agriculture, can bring adverse effects as growers may use excessive amounts without adequate protective measures (Palis et al., 2006). Even farmers who are aware of the harmful effects of pesticides are sometimes unable to translate this awareness into their practices (Damalas et al., 2006; Isin and Yildirim, 2007).

Personal safety during agrochemical use has been one of the primary concerns of many international organizations (IPCS, 1991). However, since farm work includes several differents activities, control measures may not always be feasible for workers' protection. Therefore, the use of personal protective equipment is necessary when working with agrochemicals in order to reduce the number and the severity of farmwork related injuries or illnesses. Studies about the types of chemicals, of personal protective equipment, and of exposure indicate that personal protective equipment is effective in reducing farmers' exposure to pesticides (Fenske et al., 1990; Gomes et al., 1999). However, there are variations due to fabrics and clothing design (Nigg et al., 1993; Guo et al., 2001). Despite indications of efficacy, Damalas et al. (2006), Recena et al. (2006) and MacFarlane et al. (2008) have shown that personal protective equipment is frequently not used.

Cotton, one of the most intensively sprayed field crops, receives slightly more than 10 % of the total pesticide used annually and covering nearly 25 % of the insecticide sales worldwide (PANNA, 2007). Although cotton accounts for less than about 3 % of the world total cultivated area, it ranks among the crops with the highest input of agrochemicals. Globally, cotton producers spend about 2.6 billion US$ on agricultural pesticides each year with the bulk of these pesticides associated with insect control (PANNA, 2007). Although several of these chemicals are toxic enough to be classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization, cotton producers often handle pesticides with few, if any, safety precautions.

Poor knowledge and understanding of safety practices during pesticide use and erroneous beliefs about the necessity of personal protective equipment can seriously impair farmers' abilities to protect themselves (Jørs et al., 2006; Zhang and Lu, 2007). The use of personal protective devices depends much on individual decisions, which can be influenced by various factors: risk perception, awareness of belonging to a risk group and of the seriousness of potential hazards, belief that prevention is effective in reducing potential risk and that prevention is possible. Pesticide users need information about potential hazards of pesticide handling and on the use of personal protective equipment. Therefore, the objective of this study was to evaluate the levels of pesticide risk perception and the use of personal protective equipment among cotton growers from rural areas of the Prefecture of Pieria in northern Greece.



Information for this study was gathered from two individual but inter–related surveys (through interviews) conducted with 76 growers from May to August 2004 and 72 growers from May to August 2005, from rural areas of the Prefecture of Pieria in northern Greece. To study relationships of age with the levels of pesticide risk perception and the frequency of use of personal protective equipment, the individuals surveyed were up to 35 years old (young growers) and above 50 years old (old growers). Direct observations in the field, wherever possible, were carried out. Growers were randomly selected based on the fact that they were recently farming cotton. The aim was to interview those most likely to identify the real situation in the field, which was achieved with the close cooperation and assistance of the local leaders. The growers gave oral consent to participate in the study after a brief explanation of the objective. To avoid any potential bias, it was made clear to the growers that the study was for academic research.

A questionnaire with structured, semi–structured, and unstructured items was designed. It included questions about common cropping practices of growers, pesticide use, pesticide risk perception, and the use of personal protective equipment during pesticide application. Growers were asked to report: 1) the type of pesticides used for pest management in cotton; 2) to what extent they agree or disagree with a series of statements describing attitudes related to safety issues of pesticide use; 3) the frequency of use of cropping practices related to Integrated Pest Management (IPM); 4) the frequency of use of protective devices or clothing during pesticide handling. For the safety issues of pesticide use and the cropping practices related to IPM, a five point Likert–type scale from 1 to 5 was utilized. For the frequency of use of various protective devices (or clothing) a three point Likert–type scale from 1 to 3 was utilized. Information relating to age, education, farming experience, and pesticide safety training was collected. The questionnaire was pre–tested using small samples of growers in the same areas.

The data were coded and entered into specially designed databases (Microsoft® Office Access®) where they were checked for entry errors. Data were transferred to spreadsheets (Microsoft® Office Excel®) and SPSS® (version 10) for statistical analysis. Mean values and standard deviations were calculated for each question. Mean values of responses were compared between the two groups (young and old growers) using the independent t–test (p<0.05).



Mean age was 27.8±4.91 years for young growers and 58.8±3.02 years for old growers. Of the young growers 29 % finished primary and 43 % lower secondary education, whereas 49 % of the old growers finished only primary education (Table 1). Weighting across education levels was not performed and the sample does not reflect education level of growers in Greece.

All growers stated that they use various pesticides for pest control, which they apply using their own spraying equipment. The 15 most commonly used pesticides along with their main characteristics (chemical class, toxicological class, and main use) according to the World Health Organization classification (WHO, 2005) are listed in Table 2.

The pesticides reported by the growers included mostly insecticides (organophosphates and pyrethroids) followed by herbicides. None of the pesticides were extremely hazardous or highly hazardous according to the WHO classification and all of them are registered for pest control in cotton. A common case of pesticide misuse by many growers is the use of unregistered pesticide products (i.e. the application of pesticide products to crops that are not indicated on the product label). Often, this may be attributed to the growers who believe that they can use surplus products for other crops without paying attention to the label. However, this may be done deliberately because the growers believe that a pesticide, whether it is registered or not for a specific use, is more effective than other products. All the pesticides reported in this study were registered for use in cotton; this is encouraging because growers seem to comply with the legislation, the codes of good agricultural practices, and the instructions from pesticide salesmen.

Growers agreed that pesticides are necessary for high yield and product quality, but young growers were more concerned about using chemicals for pest control and they believed in alternative methods of pest control, as compared to old growers (Table 3). Besides, young growers showed higher levels of risk perception about potential hazards of pesticides than old growers, who thought that pesticides are generally less hazardous compared with other farming activities. Growers agreed that pesticides are safe if they are handled following the manufacturer's directions. However, young growers indicated that pesticide benefits did not outweigh their potential risks (Table 3). Farmers who use pesticides normally view them as a guarantee for high yields and high product quality (Damalas et al., 2006) and the overriding concern is that crop damage by pests leads to economic loss (Kishi, 2002). Farmers' experience with pesticides as part of their job may justify their high levels of acceptance and the relatively low risk perceptions levels. Old growers showed a trend to perceive a lower risk and higher benefit from pesticide use, and tended to be less risk averse when compared with young growers. It seems that familiarity with pesticides in everyday practice may lead to greater risk taking during pesticide handling, particularly among old growers, probably because they may feel that after many years in farming new efforts to protect their health are unnecessary.

Although scores for IPM adoption were rather low, young growers showed more favorable attitudes towards certain pest management practices related to IPM, as compared with old growers who showed low levels of adoption of these practices (Table 4). Most farmers stated that they perform field scouting for major pests and they implement crop rotation to reduce pests. However, considering economic thresholds for pesticide applications and about natural enemies for pesticide treatment decisions as well as the use of band pesticide treatments, did not receive as much attention as it would be expected. Nevertheless, young growers rated much higher the importance of these IPM practices and of pesticide rotation for the prevention of resistant pests. Although there is certainly much room for improvement, the results about the implementation of IPM practices indicate that young growers are interested in pest control methods that can decrease their heavy reliance on chemical pesticides or in using pesticides more rationally.

Regarding utilization of protective equipment, hat and boots were the most frequently used items, but most of the growers reported low use of gloves, goggles, face mask, coveralls, and respirator (Table 5). The use of these items was considerably lower for old growers than for young growers, whereas the respirator was not used at all. Determining the reasons for not using personal protective equipment was not a part of the objectives of this study. However, a relevant study with tobacco growers in the area showed that protective equipment was not used because they are uncomfortable (Damalas et al., 2006).

In northern Cote d'lvoire although cotton farmers knew about the potential health risks of pesticide use, the precautionary measures taken against exposure were inadequate and in over half of the cases pesticide users did not wear any protective clothing during spraying (Ajayi and Akinnifesi, 2007). Similar attitudes of growers towards using protection devices and poor use of protective equipment have been reported (Mekonnen and Agonafir, 2002; Perry et al., 2002; Yassin et al., 2002). In most cases, the use of protective equipment was low despite availability of protective devices and adequate knowledge by farmers about potential impact of pesticides on their health. However, Schenker et al. (2002) found that 93 % of California farmers wore personal protective equipment when handling pesticides, which was a considerably higher than for farmers in other areas of the USA. Similarly, Nicol and Kennedy (2008) reported that 63 % of those who applied pesticides in fruit–growing farms wore personal protective equipment, which was somewhat higher than in other Canadian studies, although the specific use patterns were similar; in the same study, no association was found between frequency of protective equipment use and age. However, Schenker et al. (2002) indicate that younger age was associated with higher personal protective equipment use, which is in agreement with findings of our study.

This project relied mainly on self–reports of growers' pesticide use practices, which were only partly validated against actual use. Self–report of personal protective equipment use may be influenced by respondents' desire to indicate that they comply with the equipment requirements. As this study took place in the middle of the growing season, it is anticipated that recall accuracy would not pose a problem for self–reported equipment use.



Cotton growers showed high levels of acceptability of pesticide use, but young growers showed higher levels of risk perception about possible adverse effects of pesticides on users' health, higher levels of adoption of some IPM practices, and higher frequency of use of personal protective equipment. Besides, a substantial percentage of cotton growers, irrespective of age, did not recognize the need to wear personal protective equipment on a regular basis. Old growers showed a trend to perceive a lower risk and higher benefit from pesticide use, and to be less risk averse. Based on these trends, education and training is vital to promote growers' awareness and knowledge of health hazards of pesticides and potential of IPM practices to control pests effectively, while reducing use of pesticides. Besides, it is also essential to enhance growers' awareness of using suitable and effective personal protective equipment.



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