The Agricultural Worker Protection Standard
Prepared by Kerry Bernard, Pesticide Safety Education Professional
Reviewed by Jim Dill, Pest Management Specialist, and Megan Patterson, Director of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control
UMaine Cooperative Extension Diagnostic and Research Laboratory, Pest Management Unit, 17 Godfrey Drive, Orono, ME 04473-3692, 207.581.3880 firstname.lastname@example.org
Federal Requirements for Protecting Agricultural Employees from Occupational Pesticide Exposure
In the U.S., more than 2 million employees are at risk of regular exposure to agricultural pesticides while at work. The EPA’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS), a federal regulation revised in 2015, minimizes these risks by requiring agricultural employers to take steps to keep their employees safe from pesticide-related injury and illness. All owners and operators of production areas (farms, forests, nurseries, and greenhouses) and commercial pesticide handling establishments must adhere to the WPS requirements, with few exceptions.
The WPS protects two types of employees: agricultural workers (individuals involved in the cultivation or harvesting of plants) and pesticide handlers (individuals who mix, load, and/ or apply agricultural pesticides, and those who maintain agricultural pesticide application equipment). Workers and handlers are treated differently under the WPS. Both, however, must be provided by their employers with information regarding potential pesticide exposures, protection from such exposures, and mitigation, should one occur.
The WPS requires employers to notify their employees of agricultural pesticide applications made onsite, provide pesticide safety training, and keep detailed records of both for two years.
All application information must be readily accessible, up-to-date, and legible, at the start of an application. It must remain so for 30 days after the restricted-entry interval (REI) has elapsed. The following should be posted in a central location:
- Area(s) treated
- Date and time of application
- Pesticide product used, its EPA registration number, active ingredient(s), safety data sheet
- EPA WPS safety poster
- Name, address, and phone number for the nearest emergency medical facility
Employees (except certified applicators) must complete pesticide safety training annually, before they’re allowed to work in areas that have been restricted-entry in the 30 days prior. Only a certified applicator or other EPA or state-approved individual may conduct the training, which must include:
- Where pesticide exposures may occur
- The dangers of exposure
- Routes of pesticide entry
- Signs and symptoms of poisoning
- Dangers of exposure to sensitive individuals (children, pregnant women, )
- Explanations of AEZs and REIs
- The hazards of drift and residues
- Instructions to remove work boots and clothing upon return home, and to wash them separately from household laundry
- How to get emergency care
- How to report WPS violations
An application exclusion zone (AEZ) is a temporary, mobile area of no entry, extending from the application equipment as the application is occurring. In high-drift applications, an AEZ extends 100ft from the equipment in all directions, and in low-drift applications, extends 25ft. Only handlers, in the appropriate PPE, may be present in an AEZ. If anyone else enters, application must stop immediately.
Handlers require additional training in:
- Label interpretation
- Proper use of pesticides and application equipment
- Prevention and recognition of heat-related illness
- First aid for pesticide injury and poisoning
- Respirator training (if the chemicals used require a respirator)
- Environmental considerations
- Proper storage, handling, transportation, disposal, and spill cleanup of pesticides
When agricultural establishments hire commercial pesticide handling establishments to do applications, both establishments need to exchange information (such as what products will and have been sprayed, and where) to protect their employees.
The WPS requires employers to protect their employees by providing physical barriers to pesticides (personal protection equipment [PPE]), keeping those without PPE and special training away from pesticides, and closely monitoring employees who work with highly toxic pesticides.
For handlers and early-entry workers, employers must provide:
- PPE, including respirators (if required), with the associated medical evaluation and fit test
- PPE maintenance
- A clean, pesticide-free changing area
- Clean, pesticide-free storage areas for personal clothes and clean PPE
Employers must keep workers and people without proper PPE away from:
- Areas where an REI is in effect
- Application equipment
Employers can warn workers to keep out of treated areas either orally, by using signs, or both, depending on the pesticide label instructions and the REI length. Signs must be placed where workers are most likely to enter the area.
Marked with the signal word DANGER and the skull and crossbones, highly toxic pesticides present special hazards to handlers. For this reason, handlers need to be checked on, by voice or visual contact, at least every 2 hours when working with them. Handlers using fumigants in enclosed spaces must maintain constant contact with another handler.
Employees need to wash up immediately after handling pesticides or anything that has come into contact with them. And, sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, accidents happen. To prepare for this possibility, under the WPS, employers must provide decontamination sites, and transportation to the nearest emergency medical facility.
Decontamination sites must be located outside pesticide-treated areas, but no farther than ¼ mile from where employees are working. Employers also have to provide decontamination supplies at pesticide mixing and loading sites, and PPE removal areas
Decontamination sites must include:
- Water (1 gallon for each worker, 3 gallons, for handlers), soap, and disposable towels
- A change of clothes for handlers
- Eyewash for handlers (if the pesticide label requires eye protection)
- The EPA WPS safety poster (if the site is permanent or for more than 10 employees)
In the case of an emergency pesticide exposure, employers must secure immediate transport for the affected employee(s) to an emergency medical facility. They must also provide medical personnel with the pesticide product name, EPA registration number, active ingredient(s), SDS, and a description of the circumstances surrounding the exposure.
To download and print this brochure:
Source material for this page includes publications from Nevada Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Maine Board of Pesticides Control, Penn State Extension, Pesticide Educational Resources Collaborative, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Washington Department of Agriculture. Photo courtesy of USDA-ARS.
Pesticide safety information may change over time. This information is provided for educational purposes only and was published in 2018.
Although pesticides can be an essential tool in pest management, the improper use and disposal of these chemicals present a continuing risk to humans, animals, and the environment. It’s important for applicators to understand that pesticide safety is not only about protecting themselves — it’s also about protecting our domestic and wild animals, the environment, our landscapes, and our communities.
Misuse of pesticides can result in, or contribute to, serious injury, illness, or death. Cooperative Extension does not guarantee the safety or effectiveness of any product or practice. Users of any pesticides, and Extension’s educational materials, do so at their sole risk and assume all risk from using such pesticides and materials, whether they follow recommendations or not. The user bears all responsibility for resulting damages to property, human health, or the environment. Cooperative Extension and the University of Maine System shall not be responsible for any damages including, but not limited to, any and all damage or loss to real or personal property, personal injury or death, resulting from the negligence of cooperative extension, the university, its trustees, faculty, agents, employees or volunteers.
Always follow directions on pesticide labels! Failure to do so violates federal law. Application timing and proper calibration are as important as using the right product.
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