New law mandates personal protective equipment

If Rodney Dangerfield – who got no respect – was reincarnated at a farm or grove, he would come back as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or a chemical storage building: He still wouldn’t get any respect. New federal law aims to change that.


PPE and proper material storage are required by federal law and, typically, local statutes. Since December 1, 2010, growers who fumigate any sort of crop must comply with the new fumigation law. The key factors of the law, according to David Myers, senior extension agent for Anne Arundel County in Glen Burnie, Md., are an EPA requirement that all fumigant applications include fumigation management plans, applicator education, buffer zones and neighbor notification.

“Growers have been caught off guard with the new fumigation laws,” Myers says. He teaches a two-year course at the University of Maryland and heads up the program for PPE compliance for agriculture.

A key part of “Applicator Education” includes PPE training and respirator fit classes.

We’ve all heard the stories and jokes about PPE. Those jokes now have a rock-’em, sock-’em punch line: States are assessing fines on growers when they let safety slip. Last spring (2010), the Washington State Department of Agriculture fined growers $5,200 and imposed several license suspensions for violations of state pesticide laws and regulations. The fines, which ranged from $450 to $1,800, were no laughing matter. The highest fine was slapped on a Yakima Valley operation for failing to provide all of the necessary decontamination supplies, and for allowing workers into a sprayed orchard before they were permitted to enter.

A grape-growing operation in Grandview was fined $700 for not adequately supervising the care of personal protective equipment.

Law’s PPE requirements

A basic requirement of the new fumigation law is that growers pass a respirator fit test (see sidebar).

As Myers notes, many growers were caught unaware of the new EPA requirements. “It’s taking a lot to get farmers compliant,” he says.

Effective December 1, 2010, the EPA requires that at least two individuals from each farm applying fumigants be respirator fit tested and medically cleared for respirator usage. Each test subject must bring their own NIOSH-approved respirator for pesticide usage, fitted with an organic vapor cartridge.

OSHA requires a clean-shaven face at the face piece sealing surface. A full face or helmet-type respirator sealed below the neck may be required for bearded individuals to be respirator fit certified.

After passing the respirator fit test, the grower will get a certification card that, by law, expires December 31 of the current year.

OSHA medical clearance forms must be filled out by each respirator fitted individual, and then reviewed by their physician for duty release, Myers notes.

North Carolina actually has staffed medical personnel at grower meetings to help the process along. The 3-M company has an online service at its website that allows a grower to talk by phone to a physician on a live link to take care of the part of the law requiring a physical.

Most local doctors will do the OSHA checkup for no more than the cost of an office visit, although some will require a full physical exam.

There are occupational health services companies that will certify a grower. However, these tend to be cost-prohibitive for the mom-and-pop operation. Myers says they begin to pay when a farm has 20 growers to get tested.

How bad is it?

Getting growers to use PPE is another issue. Several years ago, private orchard applicators enrolled in the Agricultural Health Study participated in the Orchard Fungicide Exposure Study. All of these growers knew their practices would be observed over a 144-day period by a team led by Cynthia Hines, senior research industrial hygienist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Cincinnati, Ohio. Researchers watched the farmers in person at least twice and gathered information on the chemicals they applied, as well as applicator mixing, application, personal protective and hygiene practices.

The study found that farmers, even though they had attended pesticide certification training, often ignored the standard PPE and cleanup guidelines every instructor teaches.

“These people, at one point, were trained for their license. None of these findings went in an unexpected direction,” Hines says. “The study confirmed the concerns and hypotheses we had.”

Rubber gloves were the most frequently worn PPE. Yet the statistics were stunningly weak. At mixing, 68 percent of the applicators wore gloves. Just 59 percent had them on during application. Rubber boots are worn about a third of the time.

Disposable CR coveralls (e.g., Tyvek) or a spray suit, such as a waterproof “rain suit,” was worn during mixing and applying 36 percent of the time. Used disposable CR coveralls were reused on about 30 percent of the days they were worn. Applicators wore short-sleeve shirts on 38 percent of the days for both mixing and applying. A small number (4 percent) wore short pants while applying and mixing.

Respirators, such as those required under the new fumigation act, were worn by only 45 percent of the workers while mixing fungicides. Surprisingly, this number went up to 49 percent at application.

Protective outerwear was donned by 36 percent while mixing materials; most people who had outerwear kept it on – 37 percent had protective clothing during application. The story was similar with rubber boots. The number using them hovered around 35 percent during both mixing and application. Understandably, spraying from a tractor or other vehicle without an enclosed cab was associated with wearing some type of coverall.

A number of these were small operations. Half of the applicators had orchards with fewer than 100 trees. Air blast spraying was the most frequent application method used by the growers at 55 percent. This was followed by hand spraying, done by 44 percent. The farms studied were in North Carolina and Iowa.

Maybe workers do not see the value of PPE. Eye protection was worn while mixing and applying on only 35 percent and 41 percent of the days, respectively.

Hines, noting she has no solid data, speculates that farmers do not see fungicides as being as harsh or dangerous as insecticides.

“We need to drill down and see what causes a farmer to wear PPE,” she says. Is it a matter of perception of the inherent danger? Is it to protect family members?

In a similar study done on custom pesticide applicators in Ohio, researchers found that once the temperatures crept through the 80s and into the 90s, applicators wore short-sleeved shirts, not the long sleeves required. That is understandable from a comfort point of view, if not for safety.

If farmers are not listening to the state or federal regulators, it might not be surprising that they do not listen to a mother’s most common exhortation: “Wash your hands.” In more than three-quarters of all cases studied, the applicators did not wash their hands after mixing or loading (77 percent). That finding was not explained by glove use.

Hines says that the low figure might be explained by farmers’ perception of the spraying process. “If you think about the activity, they get ready, get their equipment together, mix, load and spray,” she points out. She speculates that farmers may see the whole process as one task and that they clean up after the job is done, rather than cleaning themselves after handling the chemical and then again after spraying.

Age is a factor in PPE use, Hines notes. Glove use during mixing was associated with younger age, while wearing long-sleeve shirts was associated with older age. Self-reported unusually high fungicide exposures were more likely on days applicators performed repairs.

Myers says he thinks younger farmers are more aware of the need for proper PPE, perhaps because of their lax parents. “Parents who might be delinquent with using PPE will push it for their children,” he says.

A grower with a cancer experience is the best salesperson for PPE. Myers knows a farmer who developed cancer and wore a whole Tyvek suit thereafter. “He had no recurrences of the cancer,” Myers says. “Growers with a history of health problems will use PPE.”

Myers also believes it makes a difference who mentors young farmers. “As an extension agent, it’s my job to promote PPE,” he says. One way he does that is to have growers don breathing equipment, and then expose them to an irritant smoke. “Then they know what the respirator is doing for them,” he says.

Ironically, growers seem to take better care of their equipment than they do themselves. According to the NIOSH study, applicators rinsed pesticide-containing tanks and hosed down or rinsed off the sprayer 38 percent of the time. About 25 percent of the time they hosed down the tractor (or other towing vehicle) they were using, and about 33 percent of the time they cleaned nozzles.

Operating spray equipment from tractors with climate-controlled cabs is always a good idea. Myers advises changing the charcoal on respirators and other filters every two weeks or so in season.

Storing materials

“There is no one standard for storage,” says Lisa Clements, marketing manager for U.S. Chemical Storage. “We have guidelines for storing materials that are hazardous, but the requirements vary by local and federal regulations. Every situation is unique.”

That means each grower can take a different approach to protecting materials and people and still be “correct” in that approach.

“The burden is on the person who buys the material,” Clements says. “Safety requirements vary on a case-by-case, town-by-town basis.” Even growers with similar operations in different climates will have different requirements. A grower in a hot, dry area will have different storage requirements than one in a humid area. The types of materials stored, as well as the shelf life of the material, will dictate particulars in a storage building, she continues.

Even the placement of the building on the farm will affect the design. A chemical storage building that is close to other buildings will require a high fire rating. One that is isolated from structures may not need a fire rating at all. U.S. Chemical Storage offers growers a list of materials and ratings on its website at It details the terminology used for flammable, or Class 1, liquids.

Respirator Fit Testing Procedure

According to Dave Myers with the University of Maryland, the procedure for Respirator Fit Testing can be carried out by anyone. If, like Myers, you have a beard, you’re in a bit of a fix. The EPA says no beards. A full face or helmet-type respirator sealed below the neck may be required for bearded individuals to be respirator fit-certified. Otherwise, a good skin-to-seal lock is required.

Fit testing must be renewed annually. An OSHA form must be filled out, and a physician must certify that the operator is physically fit for spraying.

Here is the basic procedure, according to Myers:

  • Ask the subject about any breathing difficulties prior to fit testing.
  • Perform a sensitivity test.
  • Fit the respirator and perform a user seal check.
  • Ask the individual to close their eyes while irritant smoke is delivered to inhalation and seal points on the respirator.
  • Ask the individual to breath normally and move their head during the test.
  • If there is no irritation or detection, you’ve got a successful respirator fit.

There are three categories: Class 1A liquids have flash points below 73 degrees Fahrenheit and a boiling point below 100 degrees Fahrenheit; Class 1B liquids have flash points below 73 degrees and a boiling point of at least 100 degrees; and Class 1C liquids have flash points below 73 degrees and a boiling point below 100 degrees. They differ from combustibles in that a combustible is a liquid having a flash point of at least 100 degrees.

Combustibles are divided into two classes: Class II liquids that have a flash point of at least 100 degrees and below 140 degrees. However, the exception to this is any mixture having components with flash points of 200 degrees, when such components make up at least 99 percent of the total volume of the mixture. Examples of this class are kerosene and most oil-based paints. The Class III combustibles are liquids with flash points of at least 140 degrees.

U.S. Chemical Storage and other firms recommend checking for an FM, or Factory Mutual/FM Global (, sticker on buildings. FM is a commercial insurance company that partners with companies long term to support risk management and loss prevention practices, Clements says. FM Global’s standards are set by its research and testing. Like the “Good Housekeeping” seal, the FM logo assures growers that their product is backed by science.

Looking at why

Several researchers have called for more work to figure out why growers act the way they do. If it is funded, NIOSH expects to do just such a study – with focus groups – to delve into why growers do or do not use PPE. There is some feeling that the EPA’s “one size fits all” recommendations may not be appropriate. For example, is a farmer using a small amount of a chemical at the same risk as one using 50 gallons?

In light of the NIOSH study, it might be important to review both the labeling and educational processes now in place. “There definitely is room for improvement in use of PPE,” Hines says.

Nobody argues against safety. However, questions remain on how to get growers to follow the guidelines so they’re more likely to spend the next evening at dinner with their kids and not in the county hospital.

Curt Harler is a freelance writer. He resides in Strongsville, Ohio.