Martex, which in late 2003 had received several Notices of Warning for worker protection violations at its farms, was re-inspected by the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture and EPA inspectors in April 2004 as part of a large worker protection enforcement initiative in Puerto Rico, according to EPA. Violations found during the re-inspection included failure to post specific information regarding what kinds of pesticides are being applied where and when and failure to provide adequate decontamination supplies and protective equipment for Martex employees, the agency says.
EPA has filed a 338-count complaint against Martex for violating FIFRA's worker protection and safety requirements at its farms in Juaca and Coto Laurel and is seeking over $400,000 in civil penalties.
Martex 'cut corners' at the expense of worker safety
"Pesticides are toxic, which is why they should be handled carefully and only used according to directions on the labels," said Kathleen C. Callahan, Acting EPA Region 2 Administrator. "This company cut corners and put its workers at risk."
Martex Farms has the opportunity to plead its case before an administrative law judge or to contact EPA to negotiate an informal settlement of the matter.
"We are committed to protecting agricultural employees from unnecessary exposure to pesticides," said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA's acting assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. "Martex has failed to provide employees with the required protective equipment, decontamination supplies and information on the pesticides being applied."
Responsibilities of agricultural employers
Worker protection standards are designed to reduce poisoning and injuries among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers. They regulate pesticide use and require that workers and pesticide handlers be given appropriate training, equipment and information. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that chemical workers suffer from high rates of illnesses commonly associated with chemical use. Tens of thousands of such illnesses are reported each year. Workers may be injured from direct spray, drift or residue left by pesticides applications; handlers face additional risks from spills, splashes, inhalation and inadequate protective equipment.
Worker protection regulations protect the more than 3.5 million people who work with pesticides at more than 500,000 workplaces. Among other requirements, agricultural employers are required to:
- Restrict entry to treated areas.
- Provide notification of pesticide applications.
- Post specific information regarding what kinds of pesticides are being applied where and when.
- Assure that employees have received safety training.
- Post safety information.
- Provide decontamination supplies.
- Provide access to emergency assistance when needed.