Know your personal protective equipment

Know your personal protective equipment

Growers must understand their responsibility to keep workers safe.

August 15, 2017
Matt McClellan
Tough Tools by A.M. Leonard

When one of your workers sprays a pesticide, herbicide, or other chemical at the nursery, are you certain they're doing it safely? Does the respirator fit correctly? Has the protective clothing been properly maintained? If not, you may not be complying with the worker protection standard.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have certain standards in place regarding protective equipment. It’s a good idea to understand what falls under your responsibility as a business owner.

First off, it’s the employer’s responsibility to assess the workplace and determine whether PPE is necessary. This requires a written certification that identifies the workplace evaluated; the person certifying that the evaluation has been performed; the date(s) of the hazard assessment; and, which identifies the document as a certification of hazard assessment.

If the assessment finds that “hazards” are present or likely to be present (in the event of a pesticide spray, for instance), the employer’s next responsibility is to select the proper PPE that will protect the employee from the hazard identified in the assessment.

Next, the employer must make sure the affected employees use the selected PPE. That means communicating what they need to wear and when they need to wear it. It also means the PPE must properly fit each employee, so sizing is important.

The employee must be trained on not only when to use PPE and which PPE is necessary for a particular job, but also how to put on, adjust and take off PPE. They also must know the limitations of the PPE, and be able to demonstrate proper care, maintenance, understanding of the useful life and disposal of PPE. Employers are responsible for this training, and will be held accountable if it does not take place.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to applicator safety and the nursery owner's responsibility. For more information, visit the EPA's site.

Earlier this year, EPA revised the 1992 Agricultural Worker Protection Standard regulation to increase protection from pesticide exposure for the nation’s two million agricultural workers and their families. Drawing from 20-plus years of implementation and a thorough stakeholder review, EPA decided it was time for an update. The proposal reflects current research on best practices for mitigation of occupational pesticide exposure to agricultural workers and handlers. It aims to strengthen the protections provided to agricultural workers that handle pesticide products under the WPS by improving elements of the existing regulation, such as training, notification, communication materials, use of personal protective equipment, and decontamination supplies. 

Review them here to ensure your operation is compliant.

The majority of the rule revisions went into effect on January 2. This will give affected stakeholders and individual states time to adjust to the new requirements, as well as time for EPA and states to develop updated materials for training and other purposes.

EPA says its changes “provide significant improvements to worker training regarding the safe use of pesticides, including how to prevent and effectively treat pesticide exposure.” A big part of safety is the use of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

EPA’s Labeling Requirements for Pesticides and Devices require that pesticide products sold for agricultural use include precautionary label statements addressing dermal protection. Any product that contains a pesticide – including baits, aerosols, fertilizers, seed, organic pesticides, even “natural” products – must be handled using the required PPE in the correct way. The required PPE could be chemical-resistant gloves or a respirator. It varies for different pesticide products and for different formulations of the same product. The required PPE may be different for tasks such as mixing, loading, application, repair, cleanup and/or early entry into a treated area.

PPE requirements can change at any time due to new research and/or regulatory requirements, so read the entire label every time you purchase a pesticide. Learn more about PPE regulations under the current WPS here.

Image: Thinkstock