Hazardous and Solid Waste

What to Expect with the Pesticide Worker Protection Standard

At this writing, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is close to issuing a final rule amending the Worker Protection Standard (WPS). Today we will recap some of the changes the EPA has proposed to update this standard, which is meant to protect farm workers and their families from exposure to pesticides. Tomorrow we will review some comments the EPA has received concerning the proposed WPS amendments.

First: Who’s affected?

Well, it’s a standard to protect farm workers, so farms are affected.  Certainly this is true, but the impact of the WPS amendments go far beyond the farm fields. Those affected include not only owners, field supervisors, and workers who grow fruits and vegetables on farms, but also:

  • Pesticide applicators and pesticide trainers
  • Owners/employers on agricultural establishments that grow and harvest for commercial production:
    • Timber and trees in forests and nurseries
    • Plants in greenhouses and nurseries
  • Employers of researchers who help grow and harvest plants
  • Employers at commercial pesticide handling establishments

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Second: What are the proposed changes?

The current WPS, which took effect in 1992, places no restriction on the age of individuals in the nation’s agricultural workforce, which varies between 1 million and 2.4 million people. 

The amendments address the age issue and include more robust recordkeeping and notification requirements. For instance, the current WPS allows management, in certain circumstances, to issue verbal warnings rather than visual notifications that an area has been treated with a pesticide. 

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The major elements of the proposed changes are:

  • Training.  Employers would need to ensure that workers and handlers receive pesticide safety training every year.  The current requirement is every 5 years.  Also, the content of training would be expanded to additional topics, including how to reduce take-home exposure to pesticides.
  • Records.  Employers would be required to retain records of the training provided to workers and handlers for 2 years from the date of training.
  • Notification.  Employers would be required to post treated areas when the product used has a restricted-entry interval (REI) greater than 48 hours. It also requires that workers performing early-entry tasks, i.e., entering a treated area when an REI is in effect, receive information about the pesticide used in the area where they will work, the specific task(s) to be performed, and the amount of time the worker may remain in the treated area.  Employers would need to keep a record of the information provided to workers performing early-entry tasks.
  • Hazard communication.   The proposal would eliminate the requirement for a central display of pesticide application-specific information.  Instead, the employer would need to maintain and make available on request the pesticide application-specific information as well as the labeling and safety data sheets for pesticides used on the establishment for 2 years.
  • Minimum age.  Handlers and workers performing early-entry tasks would need to be at least 16 years old.  The proposed requirement would not apply to immediate family members working on an establishment owned by another immediate family member.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE).  The proposal would adopt U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements for respirator use by handlers (i.e., fit test, medical evaluation, and training).  In addition, the current WPS permits exceptions to the label-specified PPE when using a closed system for certain handling activities.  The proposal would adopt the existing California standard, which requires that applicators use a closed system when handling products with a signal word of “Danger” or “Warning.” 

1 thought on “What to Expect with the Pesticide Worker Protection Standard”

  1. Interesting to see when the WPS will change for the applicators. Why wouldn’t the workers fall under the respirator protection now, I’m probably missing something, please help me to understand. Thanks…

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