EPA, Department Of Labor Announce Updated Agriculture Worker Protection Standards

EPA WPS Standards
Photo credit: EPA

More than 20 years after the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard was first implemented, the EPA has announced enhanced protections for the 2 million agricultural employees and their families working on farms and in nurseries and greenhouses. These revisions will provide farmworkers similar health protections that are already afforded to workers in other industries.

The revisions, announced in a press conference on September 28, cover several areas including:

• Annual mandatory training to inform farmworkers on the required protections. Currently, training is only once every five years.

• Expanded training includes instructions to reduce take-home exposure from pesticides on work clothing and other safety topics.

• First-time ever minimum age requirement: Children under 18 are prohibited from handling pesticides.

• Expanded mandatory posting of no-entry signs for the most hazardous pesticides. The signs prohibit entry into pesticide-treated fields and greenhouses until residues decline to a safe level.

• New no-entry application-exclusion zones of up to 100 feet surrounding pesticide application equipment will protect workers and others from exposure to pesticide overspray.

• Requirement to provide more than one way for farmworkers and their representatives to gain access to pesticide application information and safety data sheets — centrally posted, or by requesting records.

• 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 farmworker training, must be kept for two years.

• Anti-retaliation provisions are comparable to Department of Labor’s (DOL).

• Changes in personal protective equipment will be consistent with DOL’s standards for ensuring respirators are effective, including fit test, medical evaluation and training.

• Specific amounts of water to be used for routine washing, emergency eye flushing and other decontamination, including eyewash systems for handlers at pesticide mixing/loading sites.

• Continue the exemption for farm or greenhouse owners and their immediate families with an expanded definition of immediate family.

EPA has developed a document that offers a comprehensive comparison of the newly revised Worker Protection Standards with the previous protections.

“We depend on farmworkers every day to help put the food we eat on America’s dinner tables, and they deserve fair, equitable working standards with strong health and safety protections,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during the conference. “With these updates, we can protect workers, while at the same time preserving the strong traditions of our family farms and ensure the continued growth of our agricultural economy.”

McCarthy also noted that states that had been responsible for inspections and enforcement will continue to do so, and that in developing the new standards, the EPA worked with the agricultural community to make sure that costs of compliance would be manageable.

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