WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2016 - Come the new year, U.S. farmers will have to begin complying with a host of new EPA regulations designed to protect farm workers from any ill effects associated with handling or working near pesticides.
And Kim Pope, pesticide safety education coordinator with the Louisiana State AgCenter, wants to make sure farm operators are prepared. The new rules, revisions to the 1992 Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, will afford farmworkers similar health protections that are already afforded to workers in other industries. Full compliance is not required until 2018.
Pope says EPA has indicated it will work with farmers initially to help them comply with the new Worker Protection Standards (WPS), which will be enforced primarily by state agriculture departments.
“It is a high priority,” Pope said in an interview, adding that those departments, plus Extension Services, “will be working to help farmers understand the rules as completely as possible.”
There is a clear need for better protection for farmworkers, EPA says. Each year, between 1,800 and 3,000 occupational incidents involving pesticide exposure are reported from the farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses covered by the WPS. Those figures may not reflect the magnitude of the problem as the agency believes there is widespread underreporting.
Pope outlined the new regulations during a session on environmental and labor issues at the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention earlier this summer in New Orleans. The new rules apply to ag workers who perform hand-labor tasks in pesticide-treated crops, such as harvesting, thinning and pruning, and pesticide handlers – those who mix, load and apply pesticides.
The new rules:
- Require farm operators to train workers annually. Federal regulations had required training every five years while some states had more stringent commitments. In addition, Pope said, there will no longer be a grace period for new workers. Previously, someone could be put to work and then trained within five days. “Now they will have to receive training before they perform worker or handler tasks.”
- Preclude the hiring of pesticide-handling workers under the age of 18 unless they are “immediate-family” members. Pope noted that the immediate-family exemption has been expanded to include aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and first cousins.
- Require growers to take a “Train the Trainer” course to make sure they’re covering all of the information needed to adequately prepare employees for handling, applying or being exposed to pesticide residues.
- Mandate that growers keep copies of the label from the pesticide container on hand to make sure medical personnel know what they are dealing with, in the case of an exposure incident.