According to the United States Department of Interior, about 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used yearly. Pesticide use can be harmful to worker safety and health. There are ranging adverse health effects that workers and employers should keep in mind when handling these chemicals. This page includes information and resources on pesticide safety that will help keep you and your coworkers safe.
Pesticide categories include insecticides, rodenticides, fungicides, herbicides, and repellants. See the Environmental Protection Agency website for more information.
Pesticides are most used in the agriculture industry. According to FoodPrint, agriculture makes up 90 percent of pesticide use in the United States, making farmworkers most at risk when it comes to the adverse effects of pesticides because they use them frequently over a long period of time.
As a worker and employer, it is important to understand the side effects of using pesticides to promote health and safety at work. According to the University of Missouri, effects generally fall into three categories: allergic, acute, and delayed.
- Allergic effects: Allergic effects include asthma, skin, eye, and nose irritation.
- Acute effects: These effects appear immediately or within 24 hours of exposure. Examples of acute health effects include stinging eyes, rashes, blisters, blindness, nausea, dizziness, and diarrhea.
- Delayed effects: Delayed and “chronic” may sometimes be used interchangeably. However, delayed effects include developmental, reproductive, and systemic effects. For example, birth defects, miscarriage, and stillbirth are all examples of reproductive effects. Chronic refers to effects that exist over long periods of time, such as years after the exposure. For example, tumors are an example of chronic effects.
There are effects from both short-term and long-term exposure to pesticide use. Long-term effects include harm to brain function, reproductive issues, neurological disorders, cancer, and more. Early symptoms of pesticide exposure include headache, nausea, dizziness, and increased secretions (e.g., sweating, salivating).
Pesticides can enter your body through your mouth (ingestion), nose or mouth (inhalation), your eyes (ocular), or your skin (derma). Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can protect you from exposure to pesticides. The different types of PPE you might use are gloves, footwear, eye and face protection, body protection, respiratory protection, and head protection.
Pesticides have ranging health effects based on the level of danger and the length of exposure to a pesticide. It is important that you are aware of the dangers of the pesticides you are using to take the appropriate measures against exposure and further contamination. Reading and understanding a pesticide label before using it gives insight on application, risks, and preventative measures. The label can also indicate how toxic the pesticide is by listing signal words (DANGER, WARNING, CAUTION).
Here is an example of a pesticide label according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, there are several points that the pesticide label should address. Reading and understanding a pesticide label before using gives insight on application, risks, and preventative measures. The label can also indicate how toxic the pesticide is by listing signal words (DANGER, WARNING, CAUTION).
There are steps you must take if you are exposed to pesticides. First aid procedures are important for workers to know about before beginning to apply any pesticides at work. The EPA states that if human exposure occurs:
- Call 911 if the person is unconscious, having trouble breathing or having convulsions.
- Check the label for directions on first aid for that product.
- Call the Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222 for help with first aid information.
- The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) (800) 858-7378 also can provide information about pesticide products and their toxicity.
EPA’s publication, Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisoning provides information about symptoms caused by poisoning with specific pesticides and treatment information.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), employers are required to comply with regulations relating to pesticide exposure. These regulations are in the General Industry, Construction, and Maritime standard categories. Specifically relating to pesticides, OSHA requires employers to maintain information relating to chemicals under the Hazard Communication Standard.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) is the federal law under the Environmental Protections Agency that regulates the use, sale, and distribution of pesticides. Key responsibilities under FIFRA include proper labeling, ensuring applicators are trained properly, and pesticides are stored appropriately.
All pesticide products must be labeled properly by law under FIFRA. According to 40 CFR Part 156, registered pesticide products must be labeled accurately with the listed information: Name, brand, or trademark product sold under; Name and address of the producer or registrant; Net contents; Product registration number; Producing establishment’s number; Ingredient statement; Warning or precautionary statements; Directions for use; Use classification.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) aims to reduce pesticide poisonings and injuries among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers. The WPS offers occupational protections to over 2 million agricultural workers and pesticide handlers who work at over 600,000 agricultural establishments. In 2015, the EPA revised the WPS to decrease pesticide exposure incidents among farmworkers and their family members. Fewer incidents means a healthier workforce and fewer lost wages, medical bills and absences from work and school.
WPS covers pesticide handlers and agricultural workers at farms, nurseries, forests, and greenhouses. To learn more about the groups covered, compliance, and exceptions visit this page by the EPA.
There are several ways that workers can take measures to protect themselves from pesticide contamination. For example, reading the label, washing your hands, wearing PPE, and taking cautionary measures when eating or drinking water. However, employers must also take measures to protect their employees. As an employer, make sure that you have PPE readily available, training on how to apply pesticides, pesticide first aid training, decontamination supplies, safety data sheets, and additional resources on the pesticides you are using in a language you understand.
As an employee, you have the right to file a complaint against your employer if they are not compliant. Visit this page to learn more about how to file a complaint.
What role do the states have in enforcing pesticide laws?
In each state one agency works cooperatively with the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce federal pesticide regulations and respond to potential complaints. See the National Pesticidehttp://npic.orst.edu/reg/state_agencies.html Information Center for state information.
National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) 1-800-858-7378