Sep 28, 2015
EPA updates worker pesticide rules

EPA has revised the 1992 Agricultural Worker Protection Standard regulation. The revised regulation seeks to protect and reduce the risks of injury or illness resulting from agricultural workers’ and pesticide handlers’ use and contact with pesticides on farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses.

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

By better protecting agricultural workers, the agency anticipates fewer pesticide exposure incidents among farm workers and their family members. Fewer incidents means a healthier workforce and avoiding lost wages, medical bills and absences from work and school. In addition, EPA is concerned about low level, repeated exposure to pesticides that may contribute to chronic illness.

“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.”

The revisions reflect extensive stakeholder involvement from federal and state partners and the agricultural community, including farm workers, farmers and industry.

Additionally, EPA is making significant improvements to the training programs, including limiting pesticide exposure to farm worker families.

The majority of the rule revisions will be effective approximately 14 months after the rule publishes in the Federal Register. This will give farmers and states time to adjust to the new requirements, as well as time for EPA and states to develop updated materials for training and other purposes. The revisions will publish in the Federal Register within the next 60 days.

EPA listed the major changes to the regulation:

  • Annual mandatory training to inform farm workers on 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’s).
  • 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.

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