At the San Antonio farm, several workers became poisoned when applying the pesticide Lannate. An investigation of the case revealed that the workers had been using backpack sprayers for application without wearing any protective clothing, gloves or boots. Their employer had never provided the necessary equipment, and soap and showers were also unavailable. Following the poisonings, the employer was directed to take the appropriate corrective actions.
When the Ministry of Health made a follow-up inspection, they discovered that many farmers were still not using any protective clothing or equipment. When they were asked why, some said that the equipment was too hot and uncomfortable. Others explained that they had been working this way for years and never had any problems. Several commented that they didn’t need the equipment because they drank a large glass of milk after applying pesticides.
This experience, which took place in Nicaragua, is common to many parts of the world and illustrates the challenge to effective farmworker training. Training must be accompanied by provision of a safe work environment and legislative enforcement, but must also consider the barriers to implementing safe work practices and incorporate them in training programmes. These barriers, such as unsafe work environments, absence of protective equipment and attitudes and beliefs which are not health-promoting, should be directly discussed in training sessions, and strategies to address them should be developed.
This article describes an action-oriented training approach applied in two multidisciplinary pesticide projects that were designed to address the problem of farmworker pesticide poisoning. They were implemented in Nicaragua by CARE, Nicaragua and the American Friends Service Committee (1985 to 1989) and in the Central American region by the International Labour Organization (ILO, 1993 to present). In addition to a strong educational approach, the Nicaraguan project developed improved methods to mix and load pesticides, a medical monitoring plan to screen workers for overexposure to pesticides and a system to collect data for epidemiological investigation (Weinger and Lyons 1992). Within its multifaceted project, the ILO emphasized legislative improvements, training and building a regional network of pesticide educators.
Key elements of both projects were the implementation of a training needs assessment in order to tailor teaching content to the target audience, the use of a variety of participatory teaching approaches (Weinger and Wallerstein 1990) and the production of a teacher’s guide and educational materials to facilitate the learning process. Training topics included the health effects of pesticides, symptoms of pesticide poisoning, rights, resources and a problem-solving component which analysed the obstacles to working safely and how to resolve them.
Although there were many similarities between the two projects, the Nicaraguan project emphasized worker education while the regional project focused on teacher training. This article provides selected guidelines for both worker and teacher training.
The first step in developing the training programme was the needs assessment or “listening phase”, which identified problems and obstacles to effective change, recognized factors which were conducive to change, defined values and beliefs held by the farmworkers and identified specific hazardous exposures and experiences which needed to be incorporated into the training. Walkthrough inspections were used by the Nicaraguan project team to observe work practices and sources of worker exposure to pesticides. Photographs were taken of the work environment and work practices for documentation, analysis and discussion during the training. The team also listened for emotional issues which might be barriers to action: worker frustration with inadequate personal protection, lack of soap and water or lack of safe alternatives to currently used pesticides.
Training methods and objectives
The next step in the training process was to identify the content areas to be covered utilizing information gained from listening to workers and then to select appropriate training methods based on the learning objectives. The training had four objectives: providing information; identifying and changing attitudes/emotions; promoting healthy behaviours; and developing action/problem-solving skills. What follows are examples of methods grouped under the objective which they best achieve. The following methods were incorporated into a 2-day training session (Wallerstein and Weinger 1992).
Methods for information objectives
Flipchart. In Nicaragua, the project staff needed visual educational tools which were easily portable and independent of electricity for use during field training or with medical screening on the farms. The flipchart included 18 drawings based on real-life situations, which were designed for use as discussion starters. Each picture had specific objectives and key questions that were outlined in an accompanying guide for instructors.
The flipchart could be used both to provide information and to promote problem analysis leading to action planning. For example, a drawing was used to provide information on the routes of entry by asking “How do pesticides enter the body?” To generate analysis of the problem of pesticide poisoning, the instructor would ask participants: “What’s happening here? Is this scene familiar? Why does this occur? What can (he) you do about it?” The introduction of two or more people into a drawing (of two people entering a recently sprayed field) encourages discussion of suspected motivations and feelings. “Why is she reading the sign? Why did he go right in?” With effective visual images, the same picture may trigger a variety of discussions, depending upon the group.
Slides. Slides which portray familiar images or problems were used in the same way as the flipchart. Using photos taken during the needs assessment phase, a slide show was created following the path of pesticide use from selection and purchase to disposal and clean-up at the end of the workday.
Methods for attitude-emotion objectives
Attitudes and emotions may effectively block learning and influence how health and safety practices are implemented back on the job.
Scripted role-play. A scripted role-play was often used to explore attitudes and trigger discussion of the problems of exposure to pesticides. The following script was given to three workers, who read their roles to the entire group.
Jose: What’s the matter?
Rafael: I’m about ready to give up. Two workers were poisoned today, just one week after that big training session. Nothing ever changes around here.
Jose: What did you expect? The managers didn’t even attend the training.
Sara: But at least they scheduled a training for the workers. That’s more than the other farms are doing.
Jose: Setting up a training is one thing, but what about follow-up? Are the managers providing showers and adequate protective equipment?
Sara: Have you ever thought that the workers might have something to do with these poisonings? How do you know they’re working safely?
Rafael: I don’t know. All I know is that two guys are in the hospital today and I have to go back to work.
The role-play was developed to explore the complex problem of pesticide health and safety and the multiple elements involved in resolving it, including training. In the discussion which followed, the facilitator asked the group if they shared any of the attitudes expressed by the farmworkers in the role-play, explored obstacles to resolving the problems portrayed and solicited strategies for overcoming them.
Worksheet questionnaire. In addition to serving as an excellent discussion starter and providing factual information, a questionnaire can also be a vehicle for eliciting attitudes. Sample questions for a farmworker group in Nicaragua were:
1. Drinking milk before work is effective in preventing pesticide poisoning.
2. All pesticides have the same effect on your health.
A discussion of attitudes was encouraged by inviting participants with conflicting viewpoints to present and justify their opinions. Rather than affirming the “correct” answer, the instructor acknowledged useful elements in the variety of attitudes that were expressed.
Methods for behavioural skill objectives
Behavioural skills are the desired competencies that workers will acquire as a result of training. The most effective way to achieve objectives for behavioural skill development is to provide participants with opportunities to practise in the class, to see an activity and perform it.
Personal protective equipment demonstration. A display of protective equipment and clothing was laid out on a table in front of the class, including an array of appropriate and inappropriate options. The trainer asked a volunteer from the audience to get dressed for work applying pesticides. The farmworker chose clothing from the display and put it on; the audience was asked to comment. A discussion followed concerning appropriate protective clothing and alternatives to uncomfortable clothing.
Hands-on practice. Both trainers and farmworkers in Nicaragua learned to interpret pesticide labels by reading them in small groups during the class. In this activity, the class was divided into groups and given the task of reading different labels as a group. For low-literacy groups, volunteer participants were recruited to read the label aloud and lead their group through a worksheet questionnaire on the label, which emphasized visual cues to determine level of toxicity. Back in the large group, volunteer spokespeople introduced their pesticide to the group with instructions for potential users.
Methods for action/problem-solving objectives
A primary goal of the training session is to provide farmworkers with the information and skills to make changes back on the job.
Discussion starters. A discussion starter can be used to pose problems or potential obstacles to change, for analysis by the group. A discussion starter can take a variety of forms: a role-play, a picture in a flipchart or slide, a case study. To lead a dialogue on the discussion starter, there is a 5-step questioning process which invites participants to identify the problem, project themselves into the situation being presented, share their personal reactions, analyse the causes of the problem and suggest action strategies (Weinger and Wallerstein 1990).
Case studies. Cases were drawn from real and familiar situations that occurred in Nicaragua that were identified in the planning process. They most commonly illustrated problems such as employer noncompliance, worker noncompliance with safety precautions within their control and the dilemma of a worker with symptoms that may be related to pesticide exposure. A sample case study was used to introduce this article.
Participants read the case in small groups and responded to a series of questions such as: What are some of the causes of pesticide poisoning in this incident? Who’s benefiting? Who’s being harmed? What steps would you take to prevent a similar problem in the future?
Action planning. Prior to the conclusion of the training session, participants worked independently or in groups to develop a plan of action to increase workplace health and safety when pesticides are used. Using a worksheet, participants identified at least one step they could take to promote safe working conditions and practices.
Evaluation and Teacher Training
Determining the extent to which the sessions met their objectives is a crucial part of training projects. Evaluation tools included a written post-workshop questionnaire and follow-up visits to farms as well as surveys and interviews with participants 6 months following the training session.
Training teachers who would utilize the approach outlined above to provide information and training to farmworkers was an essential component of the ILO-sponsored Central American programmes. The objectives of the teacher training programme were to increase the knowledge on pesticide health and safety and the teaching skill of trainers; to increase the number and quality of training sessions directed toward farmworkers, employers, extension workers and agronomists in project countries; and to initiate a network of educators in pesticide health and safety in the region.
Training topics in the 1-week session included: an overview of the health effects of pesticides, safe work practices and equipment; the principles of adult education; steps in planning an educational programme and how to implement them; demonstration of selected teaching methods; overview of presentation skills; practice teaching by participants using participatory methods, with critique; and development of action plans for future teaching about pesticides and alternatives to their use. A 2-week session allows time to conduct a field visit and training needs assessment during the workshop, to develop educational materials in the classroom and to conduct worker training sessions in the field.
A trainer’s guide and sample curricula were provided during the workshop to facilitate practice teaching both in the classroom and following the workshop. The educators’ network offers another source of support and a vehicle for sharing innovative teaching approaches and materials.
The success of this teaching approach with workers in the cotton fields of Nicaragua, trade unionists in Panama and trainers from the Ministry of Health in Costa Rica, among others, demonstrates its adaptability to a variety of work settings and target groups. Its goals are not only to increase knowledge and skills, but also to provide the tools for problem-solving in the field after the teaching sessions have ended. One must be clear, however, that education alone cannot resolve the problems of pesticide use and abuse. A multidisciplinary approach which includes farmworker organizing, legislative enforcement strategies, engineering controls, medical monitoring and investigation into alternatives to pesticides is essential to effect comprehensive changes in pesticide practices.