The comment period has ended for the proposed changes to the agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS). Pesticide handlers should become familiar with the changes.

Kevin Keaney, chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Certification and Worker Protection Branch, manages several national-level programs that address safe handling and use of pesticides. He said, “The ag worker protection standard was established in 1992 to provide workplace protection for ag workers and pesticide handlers. The intent is to reduce or prevent occupational pesticide exposure and illnesses. It covers farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses, and is very wide-reaching in scope.”

According to Keaney, the regulation puts the burden of providing guidance and safe conditions on agricultural employers or the owners of crop-producing establishments. Pesticide labels include some aspects of the regulations. “Pesticide labeling is product-specific in its requirements and restrictions,” Keaney said. “The bulk of the worker protection regulation is too lengthy to be placed on the label, so it’s by reference on the label.”

Labels indicate the restricted-entry interval (REI) – the time after application during which entry into the treated area is restricted – which is determined by scientists. Labels also specify what personal protective equipment (PPE) is required when handling and/or applying the product.

An eyewash station that is connected to permanent plumbing provides ample water for flushing.

“The reasons for the change are many,” Keaney said. “We realized that there were a number of things that could only be done by regulation. Workers and handlers face a high risk of exposure to pesticides by the very work that they do, and we have records of illness and incidents that have occurred.” Prevention of such incidents is part of the goal.

Keaney noted that there are numerous environmental justice issues involved, including farmworkers’ families being exposed to pesticides. Studies indicate there is significant take-home exposure from workers, and they show that training can help prevent it.

“We wanted to improve the clarity of the rule to increase compliance,” Keaney explained, noting that the goal is to balance the changes in an appropriate, common-sense manner that will not compromise protection. “We realized, through enforcement actions that have failed, that we need better record-keeping in various aspects of the regulation. That will be provided through better enforcement tools.”

The current provision requires pesticide training every five years, with brief training required prior to entering treated areas. A delay of up to five days is allowed for full pesticide safety training. The proposed changes will mandate yearly training and expanded training content; allow a two-day grace period for initial training; expand the grace period for actual training; and require records of training to be kept for two years. Awareness of the risks to farmworker families through take-home exposure will be addressed through new training.

The current WPS requires 1 pint of water for eyewash stations, which may be sufficient in some cases, but the new proposal requires water on a per-worker or per-handler basis.

The current rule requires oral or posted notification of treated areas unless labeling requires both. Workers entering when the REI is in effect (early-entry workers) must be provided with PPE. The new proposal includes posting treated areas where the REI is greater than 48 hours and providing early-entry workers with oral notification if they need to enter sooner.

“If there’s a need for early-entry workers, they will be given specific oral information about the pesticide, the task to be performed, and the limited amount of time the worker would be allowed to remain in the treated area,” Keaney said, adding that workers in such situations will receive PPE if indicated on the product label. “This is an area where we have required record-keeping of this notification.”

Currently, employers must provide PPE as required by the product label and ensure that respirators fit correctly. “Handlers can reduce the PPE if a closed system is used, and the current rule describes a closed system as an area that has no pesticide escape,” Keaney said. “It’s a vague standard and difficult to enforce.” Keaney said the proposal is to adopt the OSHA standard for respirators. This would involve a fit test, a description of what a fit test involves, and an evaluation that addresses potential health issues and whether the worker is trained to use a respirator. Additional requirements for closed systems will be based on the existing California standard.

This combination eyewash/ shower station can provide unlimited water for thorough cleansing of the eyes and/or the worker’s entire body if necessary.

For decontamination, the current rule requires the employer to provide sufficient water to wash thoroughly; 1 pint of water is required for eyewash. The new proposal specifies the amount of water required on a per-worker or per-handler basis and requires running water at permanent mix/load sites for handler eye flushing.

In the emergency assistance section, the current rule requires the employer to provide “prompt transportation to an emergency medical facility for workers or handlers who may have been exposed to pesticides.” The new proposal defines “prompt” as within 30 minutes of learning of the exposure.

If a worker is exposed to pesticides, the proposal requires employers to provide certain things to either the affected person or medical personnel involved in treatment: the pesticide’s safety data sheet, label and specific information, as well as the circumstances of the application and exposure.

In the proposal, several key definitions that have been considered vague or open to interpretation have been revised. The current rule defines immediate family as the farm owner and immediate family and includes immediate family exemptions. The proposal specifies definitions for terms including authorized representative, closed system, commercial pesticide handler employer, commercial production, enclosed space production, enclosed cab, entry-restricted area, labor contractor, outdoor production, personal protective equipment, safety data sheet and worker housing area.

Keaney said the new training content is highly visual and includes a lot of interactive learning. Basics include distinguishing between the effects of various pesticides and how to be safe around any pesticides. Grants have been used to field-test the new training material.

The new program is estimated to cost between $61 million and $72 million, which amounts to $25 to $30 per worker. The benefit will be reducing the number of incidents by 50 to 60 percent, or as many as 2,800 incidents per year. Keaney hopes the new rule will be in place by February 2015.

The author is a frequent contributor and freelance writer who farms and raises Great Pyrenees in south-central Pennsylvania. Comment or question? Visit and join in the discussions.