Worker Protection Standards

Worker Protection History 

In 1974, EPA promulgated the regulations found at 40 CFR, Part 170 pursuant to its authority under the federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  That part, entitled AWorker Protection Standards for Agricultural Pesticides, dealt only with the pesticide-related occupational safety and health of farm workers who perform hand labor task after ground, aerial or other types of pesticide applications.  Part 170 consisted of four basic requirements:

  1. A prohibition against spraying workers and other persons. 
  2. A general reentry interval for all agricultural pesticides prohibiting reentry into treated fields until the spray had dried or the dust had settled and longer intervals for 12 specific pesticides. 
  3. A requirement for protective clothing for any worker who had to reenter treated fields before the specific reentry period had expired. 
  4. A requirement for "appropriate and timely" warnings. 

EPA conducted an agency review of 40 CFR, Part 170 in 1983 and concluded that the regulations were inadequate to protect agricultural workers.  The review revealed concerns about enforceability and coverage and cited continuing reports of worker poisoning.  EPA set up an Advisory Committee consisting of representatives of farm worker unions, health care providers, Health and Agricultural agencies, EPA and other federal agencies.

During July and August of 1988, EPA held several public meetings, mostly in agricultural areas of the country, to explain the proposed rules, answer questions and take comments on WPS.  After a careful review and analysis of the comments and data in the record, the agency revised the 40 CFR by adding Part 156 Subpart K (Labeling Requirements for Pesticides and Devices).  The provisions in the revised Worker Protection Standard are directed toward the working conditions of two types of employees: those who handle agricultural pesticides (mix, load, apply, clean or repair equipment, and act as flaggers, etc.).  And those who perform tasks related to the cultivation and harvesting of plants on farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses.  The final Rule was effective August 21, 1992.  EPA allowed state and lead agencies to do compliance assistance from 1995 to 1998.  EPA is now demanding that state lead agencies do more compliance enforcement of the Worker Protection Standard.

The purpose of the EPA Worker Protection Standard is to: (1) Eliminate or reduce exposures to pesticides; (2) Mitigate exposures that occur; (3) Inform employees about the hazard of pesticides.

This regulation covers pesticides that are used in production of agricultural plants on farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses. The Worker Protection Standard requires one to take measures to reduce the risk of pesticide related illness and injury if one uses such pesticides or employ worker or pesticide handlers who are exposed to pesticides.

If you are an agricultural pesticide user or an employer of agricultural workers and handlers, the Worker Protection Standard requires you to provide to your employees, to yourself and others:

  • Information about exposure to pesticides 
  • Protection against exposure to pesticides, and 
  • Ways to mitigate exposure to pesticides. 

General Information 

To ensure that employees will be informed about exposure to pesticides, the WPS requires:

  •  Pesticide safety training - for workers and handlers.  It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure the employees are trained.  Workers must be trained within 5 days of employment.  Handlers must be trained before they do any handling task.  The training must include written materials and/or audiovisual materials such as the AHow To Comply with the Worker Protection Standard for Agricultural Pesticides Manual and an EPA approved video.  The training must be presented orally or audiovisually and in a manner that the trainees can understand, using a translator if necessary.  Handlers who are currently certified as applicators of restricted-use pesticides are not required to have WPS training.
  • Pesticide safety poster - to be displayed for workers and handlers.  This poster must be either the WPS poster developed by EPA or an equivalent poster that contains the following concepts:
  1. That there are Federal rules to protect workers and handlers, including a requirement for safety training.
  2. How to help keep pesticides from getting on or into their bodies.  The poster must include the     following instructions:
  • Avoid getting on your skin or into your body any pesticides that may be on plants and soil, in  irrigation water, or drifting from nearby applications.
  • Wash before eating, drinking, chewing gum, using tobacco, or using the toilet.
  • Wear work clothing that protects your body from pesticides residues, such a long-sleeved shirts, long pants, shoes, socks, and hats or scarves.
  • Wash or shower with soap and water, shampoo your hair, and put on clean clothes after work.
  • Wash work clothes separately from other clothes before wearing them again.
  • Wash immediately in the nearest water if pesticides are spilled or sprayed on your body.  As soon as possible, shower, shampoo, and change into clean clothes.
  • Follow directions about keeping out of treated areas.
  • Access to labeling information - for pesticide handlers and early-entry workers.  Handlers must have access to the pesticide labeling information during handling tasks.  Inform handlers, and early-entry workers, in a manner the can understand, about all labeling requirements related to safe use of the pesticide, including at least:
  • The signal word
  • Human hazard statements and precautions
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements
  • First aid instructions
  • Environmental precautions
  • Any additional precautions about the handling task being performed
  • Access to specific information - Information must include the location and description of the area to be treated, product name, EPA registration number, and active ingredient(s) of the pesticide, time and date the pesticide is scheduled to be applied, and restricted-entry interval for the pesticide.  This information has to be in a previously established location. 

Protection

To ensure that employees will be protected from exposures to pesticides, the WPS requires employers to:

  • prohibit handlers from applying a pesticide in a way that will expose workers or other  persons,
  • exclude workers from areas being treated with pesticides, 
  • exclude workers from areas that remain under a restricted-entry interval (REI), with narrow exceptions,
  • protect early-entry workers who are doing permitted tasks in treated areas during an REI - requirements include special instructions and duties related to correct use of personal protective  equipment (PPE),
  • notify workers about treated areas so they can avoid inadvertent exposures, and
  • protect handlers during handling tasks - requirements include monitoring while handling highly toxic pesticides and duties related to correct use of PPE. 

Mitigation

To mitigate pesticide exposures that employees receive, the WPS requires:

  • Decontamination sites - providing handlers and workers an ample supply of water, soap, and  towels for routine washing and emergency decontamination, 
  • Emergency assistance - making transportation available to a medical care facility if an agricultural worker or handler may have been poisoned or injured by a pesticide, and providing information about the pesticide (2) to which the person may have been exposed. 

A very useful tool is the Worker Protection Reference Guide.