What are the occupational health and safety risks of working around pesticides?
Pesticides are commonly used in agriculture to protect crops from insects, diseases, and weeds. Because chemical pesticides are toxic to the target pest, they can also be harmful to human health and/or the environment.
While most farmworkers do not handle pesticides, they are still exposed to pesticide residue at work. Pesticide residues are tiny particles of the pesticide that remain on the soil and plants and can be absorbed into the body through the skin, eyes, mouth, and nose. Over time, pesticide residues can build up in the body and affect human health.
Workers who apply pesticides are required to take special pesticide handler training. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide the required training to farmworkers and pesticide handlers to reduce their risk of illness and injury.
How can employers reduce the risk of pesticide exposure and illness and what are workers’ rights?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) require employers to comply with regulations that aim to reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning and injury among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers.
The objective of the training is to provide the knowledge workers need to comply with the administrative procedures designed to protect them:
- Inform: Notify farmworkers about pesticides used in the workplace and provide access to labels and safety data sheets. Notify workers about areas treated with pesticides and the “restricted entry interval”. Instruct handlers to post and remove warning signs in treated areas as required by the label.
- Protect: Keep farmworkers out of treated areas and restricted entry areas, and away from application equipment and pesticide storage areas. Monitor handlers using pesticides. Provide adequate training and personal protective equipment for early entry workers.
- Mitigate: Notify handlers and farmworkers about the location of and how to use decontamination supplies, emergency procedures, and the location of medical facilities in case of emergency.