The updated Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), received immediate praise from dozens of farmworker, labor, public health and environmental organizations.
The new WPS establishes a minimum age of 18 for pesticide handlers; increases the frequency of worker safety training from once every five years to every year; improves the content and quality of worker safety trainings; provides new rules on decontamination and personal protective equipment; and improves the quality of information that workers receive about the pesticides that have been applied at their workplace.
The amended WPS includes new provisions to protect farmworkers and pesticide applicators from exposure to pesticides. “These changes are an important step in the right direction and will help protect the health of farmworkers and their families from pesticide overexposure,” noted Amy K. Liebman, MPA, MA, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health for Migrant Clinicians Network.
“We can say that most of the same rules that have protected other American workers from dangerous cancer- and birth-defect causing pesticides are finally going to protect farm workers under the new EPA regulations,” said Giev Kashkooli, vice president for United Farm Workers. “Is it ever too late to do the right thing? It’s been a long time coming, but it has come today and we are honored to have worked with a great coalition to help make it happen.”
“The final rule includes vital improvements that we hope will result in greater awareness among farmworkers of the risks they face, stronger protections from exposure, and ultimately, fewer pesticide-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths among farmworkers and their family members,” said Virginia Ruiz, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health at Farmworker Justice.
“This standard will give farmworkers renewed hope in our democratic process and in the political will to protect the most vulnerable. As advocates and organizers, we know that policy making in the beltway is only as valuable as its ability to be impactful for the most affected and a resource for community-based organizations,” said Andrea Delgado, Senior Legislative Representative for Earthjustice. “To ensure the new protections reach the fields and the communities where they are needed most, and in a language that workers can understand, the priority will continue to be bilingual outreach and engagement in close collaboration with our partners in the farmworker, labor, and Latino community.”
“While we celebrate these hard-won improvements in the WPS, the real win will be getting the new rules implemented in the fields,” says Margaret Reeves, PhD, Senior Scientist with Pesticide Action Network. “We’ll now be turning our attention to both EPA enforcement and the state agencies to be sure these stronger rules really do protect farmworkers.”
Important provisions on medical monitoring were absent in the updated WPS; nonetheless, the rules represent an improvement in the protection of agricultural workers across the US,” noted Liebman. “We look forward to partnering with the EPA to assure swift implementation and strong enforcement of these new rules.”
Farmworkers have been on the front lines of occupational exposure to pesticides for decades, and many have suffered acute and chronic symptoms from close contact with toxic pesticides in the fields. “Many times, I saw [my parents] come home light headed or with blisters on their hands from the exposure to pesticides, and it was frustrating not being able to do anything,” said Selena Zelaya, the 19-year old daughter of two farmworker parents in Central Florida. “Farmworkers bring food to our table. I am grateful that EPA has finally taken steps to protect them. We owe it to them to protect them and have strong laws to ensure their well-being.”
It has taken more than 20 years for the Worker Protection Standard to be updated and revised, but farmworkers, advocates, health providers and residents of rural communities hope that EPA’s improved rule leads to real improvements in workplace safety for agricultural workers.