The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers a Worker Protection Standard (WPS) designed to protect workers exposed to agricultural pesticides. WPS is patterned after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA’s) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) for workers in most industrial and commercial settings. EPA adopted the WPS in 1992, and just proposed its first revisions on February 20, 2014. Some of these changes incorporate revisions to HCS adopted by OSHA in 2012 (see my earlier article), while others catch up on two decades of industrial hygiene and worker safety practices. Comments will be due 90 days after the proposal is published, with final approval to follow sometime later.
What Does WPS Require Now?
WPS presently requires employers whose employees work with or around pesticides to provide the following:
- Pesticide safety training—basic training at least every 5 years, following requirements for general workers, and for pesticide handlers.
- Access to labeling information—for pesticide handlers and early-entry workers (those who enter before full waiting period, to perform short-term, emergency, or other EPA-authorized tasks) for each time and place pesticides are used.
- Access to specific information (which may be at a central location)—for workers and handlers, which includes pesticide-specific training within 5 days of beginning work (“grace period”), supplementing immediate emergency information and a pesticide safety poster.
- Requirements to keep workers out of areas being treated with pesticides, within nurseries and greenhouses (“buffer”).
- Requirements to keep workers out of areas under a restricted-entry interval (REI) set for each pesticide.
- Protections for early-entry workers who are doing permitted tasks in pesticide-treated areas during an REI, including special instructions and duties for correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Required warning to nearby workers about pesticide-treated areas (oral and/or by posting warning signs, depending on the chemical), so they can avoid inadvertent exposures.
- Monitoring handlers using highly toxic pesticides, at least every 2 hours.
- Provision of required PPE to handlers (e.g., clothing, respirators).
- Provision of decontamination supplies (sufficient water, soap, and towels for routine washing and emergency decontamination).
- Provision of emergency assistance—make transportation available to a medical care facility in case of pesticide injury or poisoning, and provide information about the pesticide(s) for workers and emergency medical personnel.
What Changes Is EPA Proposing?
EPA is proposing the following changes:
- Increase frequency of mandatory trainings (from once every five years to annually).
- Expand trainings to include instructions to reduce take-home exposure from pesticides on work clothing and other safety topics.
- Reduce pre-training grace period to 2 days, and expand basic information required immediately.
- Establish record keeping requirement to document trainings for 2 years.
- Expand 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.
- Add no-entry buffer areas surrounding pesticide-treated fields in farms and forests (25-100 feet depending on chemical).
- Adopt the OSHA standard for respirators, including fit test, medical evaluation, and training.
- Provide farm workers or their advocates (including medical personnel) information specific to the pesticide application, including the pesticide label and Safety Data Sheets. (SDSs; consistent with OSHA’s revised HCS; but readers should note that suppliers can produce Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) until June 1, 2015).
- Remove requirement for posting at central location, to ease farmers’ compliance burden.
- Continue exemptions for family farms, including expanded definition of family members.
- Establish first-ever minimum age requirement: prohibits pesticide handling by children under 16 (exemption for family farms).