The Pesky Details of Working Safely with Pesticides

September is Farm Safety and Health Month, and our Safety Training Tips editor says that while you may think of farming as peaceful, bucolic work, it is actually one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States.

Farm work injuries affect all demographics. Many seniors, women, and teens work on family farms and are at risk of injuries. In fact, teen injuries and fatalities are such a concern that OSHA has created a Youth in Agriculture e-tool.

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One of the most hazardous tasks farmers face is working safely with pesticides. Exposure to pesticides can occur through eye or skin contact, respiratory contact (inhaling), or ingestion (swallowing). Symptoms may show up after one exposure (acute), or they may develop after repeated exposures (chronic).

Pesticides are toxic (poisonous), so make workers aware of the potentially serious health problems pesticide exposure can cause:

  • Mild cases of pesticide poisoning may cause headaches, nausea, skin irritation, and dizziness.
  • Severe cases of pesticide poisoning may cause fever, convulsions, loss of consciousness, even death.

Any workers who handle pesticides need to follow these safety precautions:

  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Obey entry restrictions and warning signs.
  • Always read labels on pesticide containers and/or material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for pesticides being used.
  • Always handle pesticides in well-ventilated areas.
  • Never store pesticides in food or drink containers.
  • Never mix pesticides or drain a sprayer near a well, pond, or stream.
  • To minimize the drift of pesticides, apply them on a calm day.

If workers are exposed to pesticides, they need to go immediately to a decontamination site and follow these emergency procedures.

  • Wash thoroughly with soap and water and use emergency eyewash for at least 15 minutes.
  • Seek emergency treatment at once—have chemical label instructions available for use by a medical team.

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In addition, workers need to take precautions when working outdoors even if they cannot see signs of pesticide use on plants, in the air, or in water.

  • Wash before eating or drinking, or using tobacco.
  • Wear clothing and gloves to protect against exposure.
  • Wash and shampoo after working; put on clean clothes.
  • Do not wash work clothes along with your regular laundry.

Workers such as farmers who work with or around pesticides need to take extra precautions to prevent harmful exposures.

Why It Matters…

  • More than 700 workers die from agricultural work-related accidents.
  • Another 120,000 agricultural workers experience disabling injuries.
  • More than 140 teen workers die every year working on farms.

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