Oct 13, 2015
EPA updates ag worker pesticide rules

EPA has revised the 1992 Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) regulation, which seeks to protect agricultural workers and pesticide handlers from injury or illness resulting from contact with pesticides.

“We depend on farm workers every day to help put the food we eat on America’s dinner tables – and they deserve fair, equitable working standards with strong health and safety protections,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “With these updates we can protect workers, while at the same time preserve the strong traditions of our family farms and ensure the continued the growth of our agricultural economy.”

Each year, between 1,800 and 3,000 occupational incidents involving pesticide exposure are reported from the farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses covered by WPS. And according to EPA, there is widespread underreporting.

Based on the intensity of their labor needs, it appears these revisions will have the most impact on fruit and vegetable producers, said Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers.

According to EPA, the WPS revisions reflect stakeholder involvement from federal and state partners and the agricultural community, including farm workers, farmers and industry. The agency is working to improve its training programs as well.

The majority of the rule revisions will be effective approximately 14 months after the rule is published in the Federal Register. This will give farmers and states time to adjust to the new requirements, as well as time for regulatory agencies to develop updated materials for training and other purposes, according to EPA.

Gasperini said state and other federal agencies, as well as activist groups, might try to apply the new standards before training and compliance programs are in place.

Stakeholders were still poring over the revisions shortly after their release, but Gasperini said the areas of most concern involved record-keeping, lack of portability of training documentation and the insertion of a worker “agent” into the employer/employee relationship. The new 18-year-old age limit won’t be an issue for most, since it does not apply to family members. However, operators are going to have to carefully think through the idea of a family member who’s under 18 applying pesticide to food crops and/or in proximity to workers, he said.

That and other definition conflicts within WPS, and between WPS and other federal and state standards, could leave room for civil action in the future, Gasperini said.

Major changes to WPS regulation

Annual mandatory training to inform farm workers of the required protections. Currently, training is once every five years.

Expanded training includes instructions to reduce take-home exposure from pesticides on work clothing.

First-time-ever minimum age requirement: Children under 18 are prohibited from handling pesticides.

Expanded mandatory posting of no-entry signs for the most hazardous pesticides. The signs prohibit entry into pesticide-treated fields until residues decline to a safe level.

New no-entry, application-exclusion zones up to 100 feet surrounding pesticide application equipment will protect workers and others from exposure to pesticide overspray.

Requirement to provide more than one way for farm workers and their representatives to gain access to pesticide application information and safety data sheets – centrally-posted, or by requesting records.

Mandatory record-keeping to improve states’ ability to follow up on pesticide violations and enforce compliance. Records of application-specific pesticide information, as well as farm worker training, must be kept for two years.

Anti-retaliation provisions are comparable to Department of Labor’s (DOL).

Changes in personal protective equipment will be consistent with DOL’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration standards for ensuring respirators are effective, including fit test, medical evaluation and training.

Specific amounts of water to be used for routine washing, emergency eye flushing and other decontamination, including eye wash systems for handlers at pesticide mixing/loading sites.

Continue the exemption for farm owners and their immediate family – with an expanded definition of immediate family.

Matt Milkovich


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