Agricultural Worker Protection Standards: Are You and Your Workers Protected?
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
By Sarah Everhart
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The Worker Protection Standard (“WPS”) is a federal regulation issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) in 1992 under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act to protect farmworkers from the effects of exposure to pesticides. The WPS requires agricultural employers to take certain protective measures to reduce the risk of illness or injury to workers and handlers resulting from exposures to pesticides used to produce agricultural plants on agricultural establishments (i.e., farms, forests, nurseries and enclosed space production facilities such as greenhouses).
For the purposes of the WPS, workers are generally those performing hand-labor tasks in pesticide-treated crops, such as harvesting, thinning, and pruning. Handlers are usually those in direct contact with pesticides such as mixing, loading, or applying pesticides.
EPA revised the WPS on November 2, 2015 to implement stronger protections for those in contact with pesticides. While most of the revised WPS requirements became effective on January 2, 2017, the following three requirements went into effect on January 2, 2018:
Pesticide safety training for workers and handlers must cover the revised and expanded content;
Posted pesticide safety information must meet the revised standards, and
Handlers must suspend applications if workers or other people are in the application exclusion zone
The WPS requires agricultural employers and commercial pesticide handler employers to take steps, outlined in more detail below which can be broken down to duties to inform and protect workers and handlers about pesticide safety, and to mitigate exposures which occur.
Provide annual pesticide safety training for workers and handlers.
Provide access to specific information for workers and handlers, including:
Pesticide applications on the establishment;
Safety data sheets for pesticides applied on the establishment; and
Pesticide safety information (poster) which includes emergency information.
Provide access to labeling information for pesticide handlers and early-entry workers.
Notify workers about pesticide-treated areas so they can avoid inadvertent exposures.
Allow for exchange of information between agricultural employers and commercial pesticide handler employers.
Keep workers and other people out of areas being treated with pesticides.
Keep workers and other people away from pesticide application equipment (out of the application exclusion zones) during applications.
Require handlers to suspend applications if workers or people are near pesticide application equipment (in the application exclusion zone).
Keep workers out of areas under a restricted-entry interval (REI), with a few narrow exceptions.
Protect early-entry workers who are doing permitted tasks in pesticide-treated areas during an REI, including special instructions and duties related to correct use of personal protective equipment.
Monitor handlers using highly toxic pesticides.
Provide and maintain required personal protective equipment to handlers.
If a respirator is required by a pesticide label, provide the handler with a medical evaluation, fit test and respirator training.
Provide decontamination supplies including a sufficient supply of water, soap, and towels for routine washing and emergency decontamination and eyewash systems for certain handlers.
Provide emergency assistance by making transportation available to a medical care facility in case of a pesticide injury or poisoning, and providing information about the applicable pesticide(s).
Trainers who provide WPS training must either be a certified pesticide applicator or complete an EPA-approved Train-The-Trainer Course. A table which provides examples of types of WPS training required for workers or handlers can be found here.
Organic farmers and other farmers who choose not to use Restricted Use Pesticides may not realize WPS requirements apply to them. Any farmer who uses WPS-labelled products which includes many organic pesticides, however, is responsible for following label instructions and adhering to the WPS.
On March 28, 2018, the University of Delaware Pesticide Safety Education Program will host a course that provides an update on the WPS and qualifies as an EPA-approved Trainer-The-Trainer. For additional details or to register for the program, contact Kerry Richards via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 814-880–0013. In Maryland, the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Regulation Section offers technical assistance in implementing the WPS.