May 11, 2017
Tougher pesticide safety rules are now in effect

Recent revisions to EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS) went into effect Jan. 2, 2017.

WPS is primarily intended to reduce the risks of illness or injury to workers and handlers resulting from occupational exposures to pesticides used in the production of agricultural plants on agricultural establishments, said Fred Fishel, University of Florida professor of agronomy and director of the Pesticide Information Office.

Workers are generally those who perform hand-labor tasks in pesticide-treated crops, such as harvesting, thinning and pruning. Handlers are usually those that are in direct contact with pesticides, such as mixing, loading or applying pesticides.

WPS requires agricultural employers and commercial pesticide handler employers to provide specific information and protections to workers, handlers
and other persons when WPS-labeled pesticide products are used on agricultural establishments in the production of agricultural plants, Fishel said.

It also requires owners of agricultural establishments to provide certain protections for themselves and their immediate family, requires handlers
to wear the labeling-specified clothing and personal protective equipment when performing handler activities, and to take measures to protect workers and other persons during pesticide applications, he said.

Jennifer Reay, pesticide inspector with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, outlined WPS requirements at an Agriculture Employers Update held in February in Ottawa County.

“Agricultural employers on crop-producing establishments are responsible for providing protections,” Reay said. “The goals of the WPS are to inform, protect and mitigate workers’ and handlers’ chances of being exposed to pesticides.”

She said the standards provide for expanded exemptions for farm owners and immediate family members, including in-laws, cousins, stepchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

Pesticide applicators must pay close attention to restricted-entry intervals (REI) – the time period immediately after a pesticide application when entry into the treated area is limited, Reay said. Time must pass before people can re-enter the area without appropriate personal protective equipment.

Users must adhere to label restrictions regarding no pesticide contact and ensure all people are out of areas being treated under an REI and safety timeline.


Three WPS rules go into effect Jan. 2, 2018:

  1. Pesticide safety training must cover the expanded content
  2. Pesticide safety information (posters) must meet the revised standards
  3. Handlers must suspend applications if workers or other people are in the application exclusion zone

There are significant changes in training timetables required of pesticide applicators under the tighter restrictions, Reay said.

“Prior to 2017, training was every five years with a grace period, and certified applicators and trainers could train others,” she said. “Also previously, training handlers were qualified to provide worker training.

“Now, training is annual, eliminating the grace period. Employers must maintain training records for two years, and provide a copy of the records to authorized persons upon request,” she said.

Trainers must be certified applicators of restricted use pesticides (RUP) or have completed an EPA-approved train-the-trainer program, she said.
The rules for hazard communication have been tightened, now requiring the retention of application-specific information. It also adds pesticide safety data sheets for pesticides to the requirements.

“You also must post information with 24 hours of the treatment and before workers enter that treated area,” she said. “It’s required that you display the information for at least 30 days and keep the information for two years. Access to pesticide information must be available for the entire retention period or upon written request.”

Pesticide safety information must be displayed on location and at certain decontamination sites. Added instructions for employees who need to seek medical attention must be accessible.

“This information must be posted in treated pesticide areas when the REI is greater than 48 hours outdoors, or greater than four hours in an enclosed space,” said Reay, who noted greenhouse operators are subject to enhanced restrictions and posting requirements.

In general, workers or other persons are not allowed within the application exclusion zone. The revised WPS provides additional clarity regarding
“no entry” exclusion zones of zero, 25 and 100 feet from where pesticides were applied. Also, exclusion zones travel with the equipment.

Specific amounts of water per worker must be available at the work site for routine hand-washing and emergency eye flushing. Eye wash stations are required at pesticide mixing and loading sites.

The minimum age for pesticide handlers and early entry workers is now 18, Reay said.

Respirator rules

According to Craig Anderson, manager, Agricultural Labor & Safety Services, Michigan Farm Bureau, under the new WPS standards, pesticide applicators and handlers will be required to have and document their medical evaluations and fit testing in order to use pesticides that require respirators.

Prior to the changes to the WPS standards, the employer was required to provide a respirator and ensure it fits. Under the new WPS requirements, the employer must “provide the handler with a medical evaluation, fit testing and respirator training in compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Respiratory Protection Standard.” Now, employers must keep records of the completion of fit test, training and medical evaluation for two years.

Anderson said the employer must pay for/provide a medical evaluation for employees who will need to be using pesticides requiring a respirator. The medical evaluation needs to occur prior to using the respirator for the first time, and if any “significant” changes occur.

Employers must identify a licensed health care professional to do the medical evaluation to ensure the employee is able to perform duties requiring a respirator.

Pesticide applicators and handlers are required to wear respirators if the pesticide label calls for them to do so. Therefore, applicators and handlers need to have medical evaluation and respirator fit testing prior to use.

“Growers should look at the labels of the pesticides they may use during this growing season,” Anderson said. “The label of the pesticides will state
if they require a respirator or not. The requirements will not only vary with the pesticide class and label requirements, but with the application methods (drench, spray etc.).”

Anderson said a respirator fit test ensures the respirator is properly working and protecting the worker when mixing, loading or applying some pesticides.
It makes sure the respirator forms a complete seal with the person’s face.

“The fit test needs to be performed with the same make, model, style and size of the respirator that will be used during work duties,” he said. “The fit test will also involve a positive and negative pressure check to check the seal of the mask to the user.”

Anderson said there are two types of respirator fit tests: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative fit tests use four OSHA-approved methods using isoamyl acetate, saccharin, bitrex or an irritant smoke to test the fit of respirators. They do not measure the actual amount of leakage into the respirator, but are only based on if the wearer detects a leak.

“For example, if you are tested using isoamyl acetate, which smells like bananas, and you detect that smell, you know your respirator is not fitting properly,” he said.

Quantitative fit tests measure the actual amount of leakage from the respirator and do not rely on your senses of taste or smell, as with the qualitative fit testing. It uses a machine for testing. Occupational clinics can perform this type of fit testing.

Either of these fit tests are acceptable for the new WPS, Anderson said. Qualitative fit tests are most commonly used for partial face respirators.

Revised WPS information is available at www.pesticideresources.org.

Gary Pullano

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