EPA's rule on pesticide workers

On November 2, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule to update and revise the regulations under the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for the first time since 1992. Specifically, the new regulations aim to "reduce the risk of injury or illness resulting from agricultural workers' and handlers' use and contact with pesticides on farms, forests, nurseries, and greenhouses" (U.S. EPA 2015). Major revisions to the standard include:

• A minimum age requirement to prevent children under 18 years of age from handling pesticides;

• Annual pesticide safety training for workers and handlers, an increase from once every five years under the original standard;

• Mandatory posting of warning or no-entry signs following pesticide application;

• Requirements for employers to maintain records of the pesticides used for at least two years;

• Establishment of an "application exclusion zone" immediately surrounding the application equipment;

• Changes to personal protective equipment, including a respiratory program in line with OSHA requirements;

• Improvements to increase the effectiveness of decontamination.

The majority of these provisions will be effective on January 2, 2017, while the new pesticide training requirements will not be in effect until the start of 2018.

On a related note, the National Institute for Occupational and Safety Health (NIOSH) recently published a study on acute pesticide-related injury and illness rates for agricultural workers. Using data gathered from 11 states for the period of 2007 through 2010, the authors reported rates of pesticide-related injury or illness (defined as an adverse medical condition occurring within seconds to hours after exposure to one or more pesticides) up to 37 times higher in agricultural workers compared to those employed in non-agricultural industries. The vast majority (81%) of the acute injuries or illnesses were considered of low severity, meaning the condition usually resolves without treatment and <3 days are lost from work. However, no information was provided with respect to the classification of the cases as definite, probable, possible, or suspicious; and no details were provided with espect to the underlying cause of the case (i.e., compliance with product use directions, unanticipated health effect, etc.)