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Open Access Research article

Safe storage of pesticides in Sri Lanka – Identifying important design features influencing community acceptance and use of safe storage devices

Manjula Weerasinghe1*, Ravi Pieris1, Michael Eddleston13, Wim van der Hoek2, Andrew Dawson14 and Flemming Konradsen12

Author Affiliations

1 South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research Collaboration, Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

2 Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

3 Scottish Poisons Information Bureau, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

4 School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:276  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-276

Published: 5 August 2008

Abstract

Background

Self-poisoning with pesticides is the cause of an estimated 300,000 deaths annually in rural Asia. The great majority of these deaths are from impulsive acts of self-harm using pesticides that are readily available in the home. The secure storage of pesticides under lock has been emphasized as a possible answer to the problem. This aspect, however, has been poorly researched. In this paper, we report on the design and use, in rural Sri Lanka, of a variety of different lockable storage devices.

Methods

Following a baseline survey of pesticide storage practices, randomly selected households received a pesticide safe storage device. The study was conducted in two phases. In the first phase a total of 200 households in two villages were provided with in-house safe storage devices and two follow-up surveys were conducted seven and 24 months after distribution. The results of the seven month post-distribution survey have already been published. In the second phase, a further 168 households were selected in two additional villages and given a choice between an in-house and an in-field storage device and a follow-up survey conducted seven months after distribution. Both follow-up surveys aimed to assess the use of the device, obtain detailed user feedback on the different storage designs, and to identify problems faced with safeguarding the key. Twelve focus group discussions were held with representatives of households that received a storage device to derive from the community qualitative feedback on the design requirements for such devices.

Results

One hundred and sixty one of the 200 households selected during the first phase were using pesticides at the time of the follow-up survey, 24 months after distribution. Of these 161 households 89 (55%) had the pesticides stored and locked in the provided device. Among the 168 households that were given a choice between an in-house and an in-field storage device 156 used pesticides at the time of survey and of these 103 (66%) selected in-field storage devices and 34% chose in-house storage devices. Of the 156 households, 106 (68%) stored all pesticides in a locked storage device at the time of the follow-up survey seven months after distribution. The majority of households that received an in-field storage device chose to install the device within their compound rather than in the field as they were concerned about the possibility of theft. The preferred design of the storage device was influenced by a number of occupational factors such as land size, crop patterns, types and the quantity of pesticides used. The presence of termites, perceived safety, material used to manufacture the device and ease of location influenced their choice. The study revealed that it was difficult to keep the key to the device hidden from children; and that the person in charge of the key would have easy access to the stored poison.

Conclusion

This study confirms the high acceptance of lockable storage devices by the community although the use of the device reduced over time. A large proportion of pesticides stored within the compound after the introduction of the device may have implications for accessibility to pesticides in the domestic environment. The ability of other household members, including children, to easily find the key is also worrying.