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February 24, 2014
Revisions proposed for farmworker protection

A new EPA proposal seeks to fill gaps in the federal standard to protect agricultural workers from exposure to toxic pesticides.  The current worker protection standard (WPS), which took effect in 1992, places no restriction on the age of individuals in the nation’s agricultural workforce, which varies between 1 million and 2.4 million people. 

Further, the WPS is remarkably free of recordkeeping requirements and, in certain circumstances, allows management to issue verbal warnings rather than visual notifications that an area has been treated with a pesticide. 

“This [proposed] regulation, in combination with other components of EPA’s pesticide regulatory program, is intended to prevent unreasonable adverse effects of pesticides among pesticide applicators, workers, handlers, the general public, and vulnerable groups, such as minority and low-income populations,” states the EPA. 

One week before the proposal was issued, 51 members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, urging expeditious finalization of these “long overdue changes to the WPS and to reject any efforts to undermine or further delay the process.” .

Annual training et al. 

The major elements of the proposal are:

  • Training.  Employers would need to ensure that workers and handlers receive pesticide safety training every year.  The current requirement is every 5 years.  Also, the content of training would be expanded to additional topics, including how to reduce take-home exposure to pesticides.
  • Records.  Employers would be required to retain records of the training provided to workers and handlers for 2 years from the date of training.
  • Notification.  Employers would be required to post treated areas when the product used has a restricted-entry interval (REI) greater than 48 hours. It also requires that workers performing early-entry tasks, i.e., entering a treated area when an REI is in effect, receive information about the pesticide used in the area where they will work, the specific task(s) to be performed, and the amount of time the worker may remain in the treated area.  Employers would need to keep a record of the information provided to workers performing early-entry tasks.
  • Hazard communication.   The proposal would eliminate the requirement for a central display of pesticide application-specific information.  Instead, the employer would need to maintain and make available on request the pesticide application-specific information as well as the labeling and safety data sheets for pesticides used on the establishment for 2 years.
  • Minimum age.  Handlers and workers performing early-entry tasks would need to be at least 16 years old.  The proposed requirement would not apply to immediate family members working on an establishment owned by another immediate family member.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE).  The proposal would adopt U.S. OSHA requirements for respirator use by handlers (i.e., fit test, medical evaluation, and training).  In addition, the current WPS permits exceptions to the label-specified PPE when using a closed system for certain handling activities.  The proposal would adopt the existing California standard, which requires that applicators use a closed system when handling products with a signal word of “Danger” or “Warning.” 

According to the EPA, the proposal represents more than a decade of extensive stakeholder input on the current WPS from federal and state partners and from across the agricultural community, including farmworkers, farmers, and industry. 

The proposed WPS

and related information
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