•4 min read
Safety is important for both the human operator and the system itself. The most dangerous aspect of aquaponics is the proximity of electricity and water, so proper precautions should be taken. Food safety is important to ensure that no pathogens are transferred to human food. Finally, it is important to take precautions against introducing pathogens to the system from humans.
Always use a residual-current device (RCD). This is a type of circuit breaker that will cut the power to the system if electricity grounds into the water. The best option is to have an electrician install one at the main electric junction. Alternatively, RCD adaptors are available, and inexpensive, at any hardware or home improvement store. An example of an RCD can be found on most hairdryers. This simple precaution can save lives. Moreover, never hang wires over the fish tanks or filters. Protect cables, sockets and plugs from the elements, especially rain, splashing water and humidity. There are outdoor junction boxes available for these purposes. Check often for exposed wires, frayed cables or faulty equipment, and replace accordingly. Utilize "drip loops" where appropriate to prevent water from running down a wire into the junction.
Good agricultural practices (GAPs), should be adopted to reduce as far as possible any food-borne illnesses, and several apply to aquaponics. The first and most important is simple: always be clean. Most diseases that affect humans would be introduced into the system by the workers themselves. Use proper hand-washing techniques and always sanitize harvesting equipment. When harvesting, do not let the water touch the produce; do not let wet hands or wet gloves touch the produce either. If present, most pathogens are in the water and not on the produce. Always wash produce after harvesting, and again before consumption.
Second, keep soil and faeces from entering the system. Do not place harvesting equipment on the ground. Prevent vermin, such as rats, from entering the system, and keep pets and livestock away from the area. Warm-blooded animals often carry diseases that can be transferred to humans. Prevent birds from contaminating the system however possible, including through the use of exclusion netting and deterrents. If using rainwater collection, ensure that birds are not roosting on the collection area, or consider treating the water before adding it to the system. Preferably do not handle the fish, plants or media with bare hands, instead use disposable gloves.
Often aquaponic units, and farms and gardens in general, have other general hazards that can be avoided with simple precautions. Avoid leaving power cords, air lines or pipes in walkways, as they can pose a trip hazard. Water and media are heavy, so use proper lifting techniques. Wear protective gloves when working with the fish and avoid the spines. Treat any scrapes and punctures immediately with standard first-aid procedures - washing, disinfecting and bandaging the wound. Seek medical attention, if necessary. Do not let blood or body fluids enter the system, and do not work with open wounds. When constructing the system, be aware of saws, drills and other tools. Keep acids and bases in safe storage areas, and use proper safety gear when handling these chemicals. Always keep all dangerous chemicals and objects properly stored and away from children.
Use RCD on electric components to avoid electrocution.
Shelter any electric connections from rain, splashes and humidity using correct equipment.
Adopt GAPs to prevent contamination of produce. Always keep harvesting tools clean, wash hands often and wear gloves. Do not let animal faeces contaminate the system.
Do not contaminate the system by using bare hands in the water.
Avoid trip hazards by keeping a neat workstation.
Wear gloves when handling fish and avoid spines.
Wash and disinfect wounds immediately. Do not work with open wounds. Do not let blood enter the system.
Be careful with power tools and dangerous chemicals, and wear protective gear.
Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2014, Christopher Somerville, Moti Cohen, Edoardo Pantanella, Austin Stankus and Alessandro Lovatelli, Small-scale aquaponic food production, http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4021e.pdf. Reproduced with permission.