EPA Announces Proposed Changes to the Farm Worker Protection Standard

The following important note was compiled and contributed by George Hamilton, UNH Extension Field Specialist.

In the March 19, 2014 Federal Register, the Environmental Protection Agency issued proposed changes to the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS).  The intent of these changes is increase protections from pesticide exposure for the nation’s two million agricultural workers and their families. The proposed changes aim to strengthen the protections provided to agricultural workers and handlers under the worker protection standard by improving elements of the existing regulation, such as training, notification, communication materials, use of personal protective equipment, and decontamination supplies.

Grower comments will help EPA determine the final version of this regulation. Comments must be received on or before June 17, 2014. Comments must be submitted to http://www.regulations.gov identified by docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0184. 

A summary that compares the current regulations with the proposed standards can be found here.

In brief, the proposed changes are:

Annual mandatory trainings (rather than once every 5 years) to inform 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 trainings will include instructions to reduce take-home exposure from pesticides on work clothing and other safety topics.

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.

First-time ever minimum age requirement: Children under 16 will be prohibited from handling pesticides, with an exemption for family farms.

New no-entry 25-100 foot buffer areas surrounding pesticide-treated fields will protect workers and others from exposure from pesticide overspray and fumes.

Mandatory record-keeping to improve states’ ability to follow-up on pesticide violations and enforce compliance. Records of application-specific pesticide information as well as farm worker training and early-entry notification must be kept for two years.

Respirator use must be consistent with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration standards for ensuring respirators are effective, including fit test, medical evaluation and training.

Requirement to make available to farm workers or their advocates (including medical personnel) information specific to the pesticide application, including the pesticide label and Safety Data Sheets.

Additional changes make the rule more practical and easier to comply with for farmers.

Continues the exemptions for family farms and broadens the definition of immediate family members which are exempt from many of the aspects of the Worker Protection Standards.

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