March 23, 2017

PESTICIDE SAFETY: Worker Protection Standard

By Hilario Garcia

WGIS Loss Control Consultant

Pesticide safety is a constant agricultural concern as it pertains to both the effect on food products as well as the effect on workers working in and near areas where pesticides are applied. In light of recent events, businesses utilizing pesticides in their operations may face increased scrutiny by regulatory agencies.

In 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Worker Protection Standard (WPS). The WPS is a federal regulation designed to reduce the risk of accidental pesticide poisoning for agricultural workers and pesticide handlers. The EPA, along with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and the local county agricultural commissioner in each county in California, oversee that the measures and regulations involving the safe use of crop protection products are being implemented and followed.


Who is affected by the Worker Protection Standard?

This regulation is intended to reduce the risk of accidental exposure for the workers and pesticide handlers involved with agriculture establishments to include farms, nurseries, greenhouses, or forestry operations. Workers are generally those who perform hand-labor tasks such as harvesting, cultivating, pruning, and thinning. Handlers are usually those that are in direct contact with pesticides, which are often categorized as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides. Handlers are tasked with mixing, loading, or applying these crop protection products.

Nonetheless, the general public’s safety can also be affected by WPS regulation. The general public can be defined as non-agricultural employees, customers, government officials, or bystanders. Failure to follow the guidelines set forth by WPS can result in accidental exposure to pesticides for the unsuspecting public. This type of accidental exposure occurred last January in Amarillo, Texas, when a resident, attempting to kill mice, applied a pesticide and water under his home. The “restricted use” pesticide mixed with water producing a toxic cloud that killed his four children and sent another six people to the hospital. The father was not a certified pesticide handler.


What are the basics of the Worker Protection Standard?

There are three basic principles that form the foundation of the WPS to provide protection to agricultural workers, pesticide handlers, and others. The three principles are information, protection, and mitigation.

Pesticide safety information is communicated through training and informative posters at centralized locations or a site affected by the application of pesticides. Information for the uses and precautions for pesticides can be found on safety data sheets (SDS) or on detailed labels included on pesticide containers or packaging.

Moreover, manufacturers of pesticides are required to create an SDS for each product they produce. An SDS can also be obtained from the pesticide vendor or searching and matching the pesticide name off an internet source.

The DPR developed the Pesticide Safety Information Series (PSIS) leaflets as a training aid for employees. California regulations require these documents to be part of pesticide handler and field worker training and are often found posted on or near an employer’s bulletin board at a centralized location that’s easily accessible to employees. There are two leaflet series: The “A” series covers agricultural settings and the “N” series covers non-agriculture settings. These informative leaflets are printed in English, Spanish and Punjabi. Revisions to the WPS in 2015 now require pesticide safety training for both regular workers and handlers to be conducted annually.

To ensure employees are being protected from exposures to pesticides, the WPS requires employers to follow several protective measures. Protection from pesticides begins with excluding regular workers and others from areas treated by pesticides. Restricted entry intervals (REI) found on SDS or labels must be followed to protect employees near or in pesticide treated areas. Another form of protection is prohibiting a handler from applying pesticides in a way that will expose workers or others. To protect handlers and early-entry workers while doing permitted REI tasks, employers must provide the adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) recommended by the product’s SDS or label. This PPE commonly consists of disposable coveralls (over an employee’s own long sleeved shirts and long pants), chemical resistant gloves and footwear, eye protection, and respiratory protection.

To mitigate exposure to pesticides, an employer will provide supplies to include water, soap, and single-use paper towels for routine washing and emergency decontamination. An adequate eyewash water system must be in place for any pesticide exposure to the eyes. The availability of transportation to a medical care facility if any worker or handler is exposed or injured by a pesticide must be provided under the WPS.


How employers are impacted by Worker Protection Standard violations

The EPA, along with state and county agriculture commissioner’s offices, monitor compliance with the WPS through inspections. Employers of agricultural workers and pesticide handlers may be inspected if a complaint or tip is filed, a random selection is conducted or if they are a targeted business. Failure to comply with the label instructions can result in a pesticide misuse violation consisting of a warning letter, administrative order, administrative order with penalty, civil lawsuit, or criminal charges. A common scenario for monitoring pesticide use compliance is a county agricultural official stopping at a random agriculture location to perform an inspection if a violation is visible from the roadside. An example that may prompt an inspection is the lack of or improper use of PPE by a pesticide handler.

Our team of Western Growers Insurance Services loss control consultants and supporting staff are available to conduct a variety of safety trainings including the mandatory WPS safety training. Training sessions can be customized to include pesticide training topics and are available in English and Spanish.

In addition to the training, our experienced team can provide consultative assistance with the documentation necessary to be compliant with the federal, state, or county government agencies overseeing the use of pesticides. To answer any questions, please contact Ken Cooper, director of risk strategy at WGIS, at [email protected] or (949) 379-3858.