Centre for Suicide Research Heading

Section navigation

Section maincontentent

Centre for Suicide Research | Research | Secure storage of pesticides |


Secure storage of pesticides to reduce suicide in Sri Lanka


In rural areas of several developing countries suicide often involves ingestion of agrochemical pesticides and related substances. Because these are often highly toxic the level of case fatality is very high and death is common. This leads to relatively high rates of suicide in such areas. Countries where this occurs include, for example, China, India and Sri Lanka. One aspect of prevention of such acts is to encourage secure storage of pesticides in order to make them less accessible, especially for someone who decides to carry out an impulsive act of self-poisoning.

The Centre for Suicide Research has engaged in a pilot project in Sri Lanka to evaluate the introduction of metal storage boxes for keeping pesticides under lock and key. Four hundred lockable metal storage boxes were given to farming households, 100 in each of four villages. Assessment interviews were conducted by Sumithrayo (NGO) field workers immediately after boxes were supplied (T1), 11 – 14 weeks later (T2), 30 weeks later (T3), and 18 months later (T4). Data on suicide and self-harm were collected from local police and hospitals.

At T1 very few households reported locking up pesticides, nearly three quarters easy access to pesticides for adults and half easy access for children. At T3 most informants in households using pesticides reported using the box all or most of the time. Informants usually reported always locking the box and most boxes were locked on inspection. By T4 there was some reduction in reporting that the box was kept locked all of the time and the box being locked on inspection. Easy child access to the key was reported in relatively few households. Most informants regarded the box as useful , with convenience for storage, security, avoiding wastage, and protection of children being major factors. A message on the box about how to deal with bad feelings and the importance of safer storage was well received. The locks had been broken or the key lost in a few households.

Introduction of lockable boxes for storing pesticides to farming households in Sri Lanka appeared to be acceptable. Most households used the boxes responsibly, although there was some decline in the proper usage over time. A large-scale trial of lockable storage devices in farming households in rural areas as a means of prevention of suicide and accidental poisoning is now indicated.

A paper reporting the results has been published in BMC Public Health.

Hawton, K., Ratnayeke, L., Simkin, S., Harriss, L., Scott, V. (2009) Evaluation of acceptability and use of lockable storage devices for pesticides in Sri Lanka that might assist in prevention of self-poisoning. BMC Public Health, 9, 69.

lockable pesticide box


Section rightcontent




  blue footer image