Oregon’s pesticide worker rules exceed EPA’s
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July 09, 2018
Oregon’s pesticide worker rules exceed EPA’s

Beginning January 1, 2019, employers with employees who apply pesticides by spray to agricultural fields in Oregon will be subject to state rules to protect agricultural workers, the pesticide applicators, and others, including the families of these workers. The rules parallel those in EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS) but, according to Oregon OSHA, are more protective in multiple ways, particularly with regard to EPA’s Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ), the area adjacent to but outside the pesticide-treated area.

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Federal law allows states to implement their own rules to protect workers against pesticide exposure as long as these are at least as protective as EPA’s.

Spray drift

EPA’s WPS addresses the risks from unintended pesticide drift by requiring that people move 100 feet (ft) away from an area being treated with pesticides. But Oregon OSHA notes that the rule was designed for workers in the field and does account for the interaction of the AEZ with worker housing and other nearby structures. Also, the federal rule allows people to return to the AEZ immediately after spray equipment has passed by.

Oregon OSHA’s rules enhance EPA’s by factoring in respirators. When the pesticide label does not require the applicator to wear a respirator, the AEZ must be at least 100 feet large, as is the case with EPA’s rule. But the Oregon rules also require that for an additional 15 minutes, people must stay out of the zone or stay indoors within the zone. The 15-minute interval provides time for pesticide drift to settle. Second, when the pesticide label requires that applicators wear respirators, the AEZ expands to at least 150 feet, and people must stay out of the zone for an additional 15 minutes; there is no option to stay indoors in the zone.

Windows, shoes, and storage

Other ways in which Oregon OSHA’s rules vary from EPA’s WPS include the following:

  • In the AEZ, windows and doors must be shut and air intakes must be turned off before evacuating or remaining inside an enclosed agricultural structure. EPA’s WPS has no such requirement.
  • Personal or household items in the AEZ must be protected from potential contamination or stored. EPA’s WPS has no such requirement.
  • Provisions must be provided for closeable storage areas for shoes or boots to prevent tracking pesticides into agricultural structures. EPA’s WPS has no such requirement.
  • Employers are subject to notification and instruction requirements, including notification of spray start and stop times and instructions on closing windows and protecting items from contamination. EPA’s WPS simply requires that employers do not direct people to remain in the AEZ.
  • Information stations must be provided for pending pesticide applications for an AEZ that contains agriculture labor housing. EPA’s WPS has no such requirement.
  • Training must be made available for adult occupants in addition to workers. EPA’s WPS has no such requirement.
  • To encourage the use of innovative solutions to reduce the potential for spray drift, Oregon OSHA may grant a variance from the AEZ requirements if the employer can demonstrate that a different approach meets the intent of the rules. Again, there is no parallel requirement in EPA’s WPS. 

Stakeholder input on challenging issue

“Putting these rules into action means workers and their families are better protected in Oregon than they are in the vast majority of the country,” said Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA. “These rules are the result of a lot of hard work by stakeholders and plenty of thoughtful public comments about the right approach to a challenging issue.”

The text of the rules and related information are here.

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