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FAQ - Environmental Law

Special Protections for Agricultural Workers

Special Protections for Agricultural Workers

Fruits and vegetables are top items on many weekly shopping lists. We have been told to wash produce before eating it to protect consumers from mistakenly ingesting pesticides. But what about the people who grow fruits and vegetables, or pick them and ship them? How can they be protected from pesticides? In recognition of this concern, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for the benefit of agricultural workers and other pesticide handlers. The following provides more information about what it being done to protect agricultural workers.

Who is covered by the WPS?

The WPS covers employees on farms or in forests, nurseries, and greenhouses. The EPA estimates that there are over 3.5 million people in the United States who work with pesticides at over 560,000 workplaces.

Two different types of employees are covered:

  • Pesticide handlers: Anyone who mixes, loads, or applies agricultural pesticides, cleans or repairs application equipment, or assists in any other way with the application of pesticides.

  • Agricultural workers: Anyone who performs job tasks relating to the cultivation and harvesting of plants on farms or in greenhouses, nurseries, or forests. These workers include anyone employed for any type of compensation (salaried, hourly, piecemeal, or self-employed) doing tasks such as carrying nursery stock, repotting plants, watering plants, harvesting produce, or otherwise engaging in the production of agricultural plants.

    Note: In general, workers do not include employees who work solely in the office, truck drivers, mechanics, or other individuals not engaged in worker activities. In some specific cases, the requirements do apply to all employees or to individuals who are not either typical handlers or workers, such as the person responsible for cleaning pesticide-contaminated personal protective equipment.

In what situations does the WPS apply?

Generally, the WPS applies in all situations in which pesticides are used in connection with agriculture on a farm or in forests, nurseries, and greenhouses, EXCEPT in the following notable circumstances:

  • Mosquito abatement.
  • Mediterranean fruit fly eradication.
  • Similar wide-area public pest control programs sponsored by governmental entitles.
  • Control of vertebrate pests, such as mice and rats.
  • Use of pesticides on previously harvested portions of agricultural plants or on harvested timber.
  • For research uses of unregistered pesticides.

What are the worker protections under the WPS?

The WPS contains provisions designed to accomplish the goal of reducing workplace exposure to pesticides and increasing workplace safety. These protections include:

  • A prohibition on the application of pesticides in a manner that will expose workers or other individuals. Workers are not allowed to be in areas when pesticides are being sprayed or applied.

  • The creation of restricted-entry intervals that must be printed on all agricultural plant pesticide product labels. The intervals establish time periods in which workers are excluded from entering the pesticide-treated area.

    Example: A restricted-entry interval for a particular pesticide may provide that workers be prohibited from entering the area for two days after the pesticide is used. There are narrow exceptions to the interval requirements that may apply in certain situations.

  • Supply and maintenance of personal protective equipment for pesticide handlers and workers who are granted early-entry to areas where a pesticide has been used.

  • Notification of workers about the location of treated areas so that they may take steps to avoid inadvertent exposure.

  • Ample supply of decontamination products, such as water, soap, and towels to be used by handlers and workers for both routine washing and emergency decontamination.

  • Transportation to medical care facilities of workers or handlers who may have been poisoned or injured by pesticide exposure. This provision also requires that truthful information be provided to medical providers about the pesticide to which the individual was exposed.

  • Pesticide safety training and display of safety posters. Signs and posters must be in English and either Spanish or another language in which the handlers and workers are literate.

  • Access to labeling and site-specific information for both handlers and workers. There must also be a central posting of all recent pesticide applications.

The WPS is not the only way in which the EPA works to protect the health and safety of workers exposed to pesticides. The EPA has also undertaken an initiative, called the National Strategies for Health Care Providers: Pesticide Initiative, in an aim to increase education and treatment effectiveness in the area of pesticide-related health.

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