EPA Announces Revisions to Worker Protection Standards

The Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing updates and revisions to the existing worker protection regulation for pesticides. This final rule will enhance the protections provided to agricultural workers, pesticide handlers, and other persons under the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) by strengthening elements of the existing regulation, such as training, notification, pesticide safety and hazard communication information, use of personal protective equipment, and the provision of supplies for routine washing and emergency decontamination.

EPA expects this final rule to prevent unreasonable adverse effects from exposure to pesticides among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers, vulnerable groups (such as minority and low-income populations, child farmworkers, and farmworker families) and other persons who may be on or near agricultural establishments, and to mitigate exposures that do occur.

In order to reduce compliance burdens for family-owned farms, in the final rule EPA has expanded the existing definition of “immediate family” and continued the existing exemption from many provisions of the WPS for owners and members of their immediate families.

Some major changes to the current WPS will include:

  • First-time ever minimum age requirement: Children under 18 are prohibited from handling pesticides.
  • Changes in personal protective equipment will be consistent with DOL’s standards for ensuring respirators are effective, including fit test, medical evaluation and training.
  • Continue the exemption for farm owners and their immediate families with an expanded definition of immediate family.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Specific amounts of water to be used for routine washing, emergency eye flushing and other decontamination, including eye wash systems for handlers at pesticide mixing/loading sites.

These changes will begin January 4, 2016. Full enforcement of changes will officially begin on January 4, 2017 (except for the expanded training content and the new exclusion zone requirement which will be enforced after January 4, 2018). The farm owners and employers will have a one-year grace period to make all appropriate changes before they are subject to fines/penalties from regulatory agencies if not in compliance come 2017.

 

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