WPS for Greenhouse Employers: Workers, Handlers and Protections

The majority of the 2015 revisions to EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS) go into effect on January 2, 2017.  To download the complete guide HOW TO COMPLY WITH THE 2015 REVISED WORKER PROTECTION STANDARD FOR AGRICULTURAL PESTICIDES, visit the Pesticide Educational Resources Collaborative (PERC), http://pesticideresources.org//index.html.  Over the next few weeks, we will break down the revised WPS to help wholesale and retail greenhouse employers of workers and handlers comply with WPS. This post provides an overview of WPS protections for agricultural workers, pesticide handlers, and others as provided in the HOW  TO COMPLY manual (pp 4-7).

WPS Definitions

The WPS requires employers to protect two types of agricultural employees: workers and handlers. In addition, the WPS provides certain protections for “other persons” during pesticide applications such as non-worker/handler employees, family members, customers, etc.

Who is a Worker? A worker is anyone who is:

  1. Employed (including self-employed) in exchange for a salary or wages or other monetary compensation, and
  2. Doing tasks directly related to the production of agricultural plants on an agricultural establishment such as harvesting, weeding, carrying nursery stock, repotting plants, pruning or watering.

Who is a handler? A handler is anyone who is:

  1. Employed (including self-employed) in exchange for a salary or wages or other monetary compensation by an agricultural establishment or a commercial pesticide handling establishment that uses pesticides in the production of agricultural plants, and
  2. Doing any of the following tasks:
    • Mixing, loading, transferring, applying or disposing of pesticides,
    • Handling opened containers of pesticides; emptying, triple-rinsing, or cleaning pesticide containers according to pesticide product labeling instructions; or disposing of pesticide containers that have not been cleaned,
    • Acting as a flagger,
    • Cleaning, adjusting, handling or repairing the parts of mixing, loading, or application equipment that may contain pesticide residues,
    • Assisting with the application of pesticides, including incorporating the pesticide into the soil after the application has occurred, or dipping plant cuttings in rooting hormones that are registered pesticides,
    • Entering a greenhouse or other enclosed space after application and before the inhalation exposure level listed on the pesticide product labeling has been reached or any ventilation criteria established by WPS (Chapter 3, Table 1. Entry Restrictions During Enclosed Space Production Pesticide Applications) or on the pesticide product labeling has been met to:
      • Operate ventilation equipment,
      • Adjust or remove coverings, such as tarps used in fumigation, or
      • Check air pesticide concentration levels
    • Entering a treated area outdoors after application of any soil fumigant to adjust or remove soil coverings, such as tarps, or
    • Performing tasks as a crop advisor:
      • During any pesticide application,
      • During any restricted-entry interval, or
      • Before any inhalation exposure level listed on the pesticide product labeling has been reached or any ventilation criteria established by WPS (Chapter 3, Table 1. Entry Restrictions During Enclosed Space Production Pesticide Applications) or on the pesticide product labeling has been met.

Handlers who are currently certified as applicators of restricted-use pesticides must be given all of the WPS handler protections, except that they do not need to receive WPS training.

Who is a Crop Advisor?  A crop advisor is any person who assesses pest numbers, damage, pesticide distribution, or the status or requirements of agricultural plants. A crop advisor may be a worker or handler under the WPS depending on when the crop advising task is done:

  • If crop advising tasks are done during a pesticide application or while the REI is in effect, the crop advisor is a handler under WPS.
  • If crop advising tasks are done after the REI has expired, but is within the 30 days of the expiration of the REI, the crop advisor is a worker under WPS. See Chapter 6: Exemption and Exceptions for additional requirement for crop advisors.

What are the WPS Protections?

WPS ensures that agricultural employees are informed about and protected from exposure to pesticides through the following enhanced protections:

Requirements to inform employees of pesticide exposure:

  • Pesticide safety training for workers and handlers.
  • Pesticide safety information — basic safety concepts (on the poster or otherwise displayed) available at the central location and some decontamination sites.
  • Pesticide application and hazard information (SDS) and access to the information — centrally-located pesticide application information and safety data sheets (SDS) in an area accessible to workers and handlers. This information must be kept for 2 years on the establishment and must be provided to the employee, medical personnel or the employee’s designated representative upon request.
  • Notify workers about treated areas by posting signs or providing oral notification to avoid inadvertent pesticide exposures.
  • Information exchange between commercial pesticide handler employers and agricultural employers.

Requirements to protect employees from pesticide exposure:

  • Exclude workers and others from areas being treated with pesticides.
  • Exclude workers and others from the application exclusion zone (AEZ) within the boundaries of the agricultural establishment during pesticide applications.
  • Exclude workers from areas that remain under a restricted-entry interval (REI), with narrow exceptions.
  • Ensure a pesticide handler or an early-entry worker (one that enters a treated site prior to the expiration of the REI) be a minimum of 18 years old.
  • Prohibit handlers from applying a pesticide in a way that will expose workers or other persons.
  • Protect handlers during handling tasks including monitoring while handling highly toxic pesticides.
  • Provide, maintain and ensure the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE) including enhanced protections for the use of respirators.
  • Protect early-entry workers who are doing permitted tasks in treated areas during a REI, including special instructions and duties related to correct use of PPE.

In addition, the WPS requires handlers to:

  • Apply pesticides in a way that will not expose workers or other persons.
  • Suspend applications if anyone, other than a trained and equipped handler involved with the application, is in the AEZ during a pesticide application (which may be outside the establishment’s property boundary).
  • Wear PPE specified on the pesticide product labeling.

Requirements to mitigate employee exposure to pesticides:

  • Decontamination supplies such as specific amounts of water for workers and handlers along with soap and towels for routine washing and emergency decontamination.
  • Eyewash water for handlers using pesticides requiring protective eyewear.
  • Emergency assistance by making transportation available to a medical care facility if an agricultural worker or handler may have been poisoned or injured by a pesticide, and providing information about the pesticide(s) to which the person may have been exposed to.

New Worker Protection Compliance Manual Now Available

from Mary Ann Rose
Program Director, Pesticide Safety Education Program

The must-read manual for growers on the 2015 revised Worker Protection Standard (WPS) is now available. Horticultural growers such as greenhouses and nurseries will be most affected by these changes because of the numbers of workers they employ.  Retailers are also affected if pesticides are applied to holding areas. WPS protections for workers are very comprehensive.   The rules include requirements for safety training, posting of application information, application signage and verbal warnings, restrictions during applications, decontamination supplies, and emergency assistance.

WPS protects workers who are exposed to pesticides or pesticide residues on crops.  Worker protections are not indefinite; they extend for 30 days after a pesticide restricted-entry interval expires.  So with minor exceptions, employees not directly involved with handling crops or spraying them aren’t covered by WPS.   WPS also does not apply to livestock production or non-agricultural uses, such as lawn and landscape.

The new rules require employers to train workers and pesticide handlers annually instead of every five years.  New employees must be trained before handling pesticides or working in pesticide-treated areas, and only licensed pesticide applicators or EPA-approved trainers will be able conduct WPS worker training. There is also a first-time-ever age (18) requirement for pesticide handlers and new recordkeeping requirements.

Compliance with most new rules is required by January 2, 2017Compliance with new training content, centrally displayed information, and application exclusion zone restrictions is delayed until January 1, 2018. The Ohio Department of Agriculture has the authority to enforce WPS in Ohio and conducts WPS inspections.

Growers can download a copy of the new WPS compliance manual and other EPA-approved training resources from the Pesticide Educational Resources Collaborative (PERC: http://pesticideresources.org/index.htmll). New WPS worker training videos in English and Spanish also can be downloaded from PERC; worker and handler training manuals are expected to be available in 2017.   All materials are free-of-charge.

Worker Protection Standard Updates will be offered by OSU Extension starting this winter. See the Ohio Pesticide Safety Education WPS page as they become available (http://pested.osu.edu/home/quicklinks/wps).