EPA Revision Brings Big Change to the Farm

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The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) in 2015. The Worker Protection Standard is a federal regulation designed to reduce the risk of illness related to pesticide exposure for agricultural workers and pesticide handlers on a farm and in a forest, nursery, or greenhouse. If an employer of any of the listed operations employs a nonfamily worker, they fall under the WPS. The first rollout of the new revisions came in effect January 2, 2017. A complete list of WPS requirements and exemptions can be found at https://www.ecfr.gov/ under Title 40, Part 170.

One of the biggest changes for agricultural workers and pesticide handlers will be to comply with revisions to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in order to become consistent with the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Individuals will need to meet OSHA requirements to ensure respirators are effective by completing a medical evaluation, fit test, and training. This will have a bigger impact than I believe most are aware. Information on specific PPE can be found on individual pesticide labels. Read PPE requirements carefully, as there may be additional requirements during the mixing and loading process for some products.

Medical clearance is the first step in the compliance process, which will determine if the employee is physically fit to wear a respirator. According to the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute, the employer must identify and pay for a physician or licensed health care professional (PLHCP) to perform a medical evaluation using the OSHA medical questionnaire or equivalent method. The employer must allow the employee to complete this evaluation during normal working hours or at a time and place that is convenient for the employee. The PLHCP must provide the employee with a statement of medical clearance to return to the employer. Alternative options are available online that could grant medical clearance immediately or may require a visit to a PLHCP for an in-person evaluation.

Once medical clearance is obtained, the employee should be fit tested to ensure the respirator forms a complete seal around their face. This test should be performed with the same make, model, style, and size of respirator that will be used when handling pesticides. Fit tests should be conducted annually and for each type of respirator you plan to wear, including particulate-filtering face masks (dust masks). Records of the medical clearance and fit test should be kept for two years by the employer.

The final step includes training to ensure pesticide handlers know how to use a respirator properly prior to initial use. Retraining is required annually or when workplace conditions change, a new type of respirator is used, or when problems in the employee’s use indicates need.

There are three commonly used pesticides that come to mind when thinking about the new respirator requirements: paraquat (Gramoxone), chlorpyrifos (Lorsban), and acephate (Orthene). Disclaimer – this is not a complete list and many generic products are available with the same active ingredient listed. It is the applicator’s responsibility to read and follow each specific product label that they use.  Farmworkers and employers need to take a close look to see if they are in compliance to the new regulations. Future fit test clinics are being scheduled through our office to help applicators and employers. (Recommendations for the use of agricultural chemicals are included in this publication as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this publication does not imply endorsement by North Carolina Cooperative Extension nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use agricultural chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. Be sure to obtain current information about usage regulations and examine a current product label before applying any chemical. For assistance, contact your county Cooperative Extension agent.)

For more information or resources, please contact Mac Malloy, Extension Field Crops Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at Mac_Malloy@ncsu.edu, or visit our website at http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu/.

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