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EPA Proposes Rule Changes to Protect Farm Workers from Pesticide Exposure

Feb. 27, 2014
Buffer zones, mandatory annual training and a minimum age requirement are among the changes that EPA wants to make to its pesticide-exposure regulations for farm workers.

Buffer zones, mandatory annual training and a minimum age requirement are among the changes that EPA wants to make to its pesticide-exposure regulations for farm workers.

First published in 1992, EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (70 CFR Part 170) requires agricultural employers to protect workers and handlers from potential pesticide exposure, train them about pesticide safety and provide decontamination supplies and emergency assistance if workers are exposed. The standard covers more than 2 million agricultural workers pesticide handlers who work at more than 600,000 farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the proposed changes, which the agency has been mulling since 1996, are “an important milestone for the farm workers who plant, tend and harvest the food that we put on our tables each day.”

“EPA’s revised Worker Protection Standard will afford farm workers similar health protections to those already enjoyed by workers in other jobs,” McCarthy said. “Protecting our nation’s farm workers from pesticide exposure is at the core of EPA’s work to ensure environmental justice.”

EPA said its proposed changes include:

  • Annual mandatory training (rather than once every five years) to educate farm workers about the protections they are afforded under the law, including restrictions on entering pesticide-treated fields and surrounding areas; decontamination supplies; access to information; and use of personal protective equipment.
  • Expanded mandatory posting of no-entry signs for the most hazardous pesticides. The signs prohibit entry into pesticide-treated fields until residues decline to a safe level.
  • A minimum age requirement – Children under 16 would be prohibited from handling pesticides, with an exemption for family farms.
  • New no-entry 25- to 100-foot buffer areas surrounding pesticide-treated fields to protect workers and others from exposure to pesticide overspray and fumes.
  • Mandatory recordkeeping to improve states' ability to follow up on pesticide violations and enforce regulations. Employers would be required to keep records of application-specific pesticide information as well as farmworker training and early-entry notification for two years.
  • Making respirator-use requirements consistent with OSHA standards for fit testing, medical evaluation and training.

This proposal represents more than a decade of extensive stakeholder input by federal and state partners and from across the agricultural community, including farm workers, farmers and industry on the current EPA Worker Protection Standard for Agricultural Pesticides first established in 1992,” EPA said in a news release.

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