Revised EPA Worker Protection Standard protects Arkansas’ agricultural workforce

Will Hehemann School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

farmAgricultural workers and handlers of pesticides can expect increased protections from pesticide exposure in 2017, Shaun Francis, Extension horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said. Under the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Worker Protection Standard (WPS) that took effect on Jan. 2, 2017, farmworkers can expect health protections similar to those already afforded to workers in other industries.

“Agricultural WPS was first issued by the EPA in 1992 and is intended to reduce the risk of illness or injury resulting from exposure to pesticides used on agricultural establishments,” Francis said. “According to the EPA, even with widespread underreporting, there are between 1,800 and 3,000 cases involving pesticide exposure reported each year.”

In 2015, elements of the existing rule were strengthened to better protect workers and handlers, he said. It is expected that the expanded worker protections will result in fewer incidents of pesticide exposure, as well as a reduced amount of lost wages, medical bills and absences from work or school.

Francis said the new 2015 provisions cover many different areas, but one of the major revisions is the mandatory annual training that informs farm workers of their required protections. Previously, employers only had to provide this training once every five years.

“Additionally, there is no longer a five-day grace period for providing training to new hires,” he said. “Employees now must be trained before they handle pesticides or work in an area where a pesticide has been used.”

Additionally, the new provision requires that employers keep records of training activities for at least two years. Copies of these records must be provided to workers and handlers upon their request.

“For the first time ever, there is now a minimum age requirement, which prohibits children under 18 years old from handling pesticides,” Francis said.

It is also now mandatory for employers to place no-entry signs around pesticide-treated areas, as well as an area of at least 100 feet around application equipment during pesticide application, until residues fall to a safe level.

In addition to being posted in a central location on work premises, pesticide safety information should now also be posted at sites where decontamination supplies are located. The provisions specify that pesticide safety information should both be available in a central location or upon request by an employee.

Francis said there are now specific amounts of water that should be made available to employees for routine washing, emergency eye flushing and other decontamination activities. At the beginning of a work period, employers must provide one gallon of water for each worker performing tasks such as watering, weeding, pruning or harvesting. Employers should provide three gallons of water for each handler performing tasks such as mixing, loading, transferring, applying or disposing of pesticides.

The changes made to rules regarding personal protective equipment will make the standards regarding this equipment consistent with those of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employers must now provide respirators and fit testing, training and medical evaluations that conform to OSHA standards for any handler that is required to wear a respirator according to a pesticide product label.

“The expanded WPS protections will help ensure the health and safety of Arkansas agricultural employees who work around pesticides,” Francis said.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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