Protecting workers from potential effects of pesticides is an important role of EPA's Pesticide Program. Workers in several occupations may be exposed to pesticides when they:
- Prepare pesticides for use, such as by mixing a concentrate with water or loading the pesticide into application equipment
- Apply pesticides, such as in an agricultural or industrial setting
- Enter an area where pesticides have been applied to perform allowed tasks, such as picking crops
This Web page introduces the subsequent topics that describe tools and information EPA uses to reduce the potential risk to workers from pesticides.
- The first step in the process of EPA’s pesticide product registration is the development of a risk assessment based on the proposed product uses. Pesticide producers must provide EPA with extensive test data to demonstrate that pesticide products can be used without harming human health or the environment. EPA scientists and analysts carefully analyze these data in the context of the proposed use patterns to identify risks of concern. Estimating the potential risk to workers is part of this assessment.
- In order to increase health protection for workers who may be exposed to pesticides, children of workers in agricultural fields and others, and in the interest of environmental justice, EPA has begun using revised pesticide risk assessment approaches that provide more comprehensive and consistent evaluation of potential risks.
- The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) is a collaborative effort led by the National Institutes of Health and co-sponsored by EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and several federal partners. This study is taking a closer look at the relationships between pesticide exposure and possible long-term health effects to farmers and their families. EPA is using the findings from the study so that relevant new findings on pesticides are translated into sound regulatory policies and practice.
- The second step in EPA’s product registration process is risk management. Through the risk assessment, EPA may identify risks of concern. If worker risks of concern are identified, EPA evaluates potential risk management measures that could mitigate those risks.
- EPA has taken numerous actions to restrict the most toxic pesticides over the past 15 years, and these actions are very much a part of our efforts to protect agricultural workers. We specifically establish limits on how a pesticide can be used to reduce risk so communities can still experience the benefits of a pesticide, without undue risk. In some cases we have ended the use of some pesticides because of worker risk.
- Potential risk management measures include changes to application rates and other directions for use on the pesticide labeling, extending the restricted-entry interval, requiring engineering controls, such as use of closed mixing systems to reduce potential exposure to those who mix and load pesticides, or requiring specific personal protective equipment, such as gloves, to protect users against risks associated with the product contacting their skin.
- EPA’s risk management process produces labeling containing directions for use, storage, and disposal that should – if followed – protect workers, pesticide applicators, the public and the environment.
Outside the risk assessment process, EPA implements other programs to protect workers. The worker safety program consists of the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, the applicator certification regulation, a health care initiative, a handbook on the Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings, and other activities and materials intended to protect people during the occupational use of pesticides.
- The Current Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) is the federal regulation designed to protect employees of farms, forests, nurseries, and greenhouses from occupational exposures to agricultural pesticides. Implementing the WPS is a key part of EPA’s strategy for reducing occupational exposures to agricultural pesticides.
- EPA has proposed changes to the WPS to strengthen protections for farm workers. Learn more.
- Worker training requirements under the WPS require employers to ensure that their employees have been trained on the basic concepts of pesticide safety. Employees need to be trained by qualified trainers and must have the opportunity to ask questions during the training session.
- EPA works closely with its state pesticide regulatory and extension partners to communicate WPS requirements to the regulated community and ensure that the regulation is being adequately implemented and enforced. State pesticide regulatory agencies, which have primary jurisdiction over pesticide use enforcement, have conducted thousands of WPS inspections nationwide, resulting in numerous enforcement actions for WPS violations. Read more about the national WPS inspection and enforcement program and its accomplishments.
- The applicator certification regulation requires that restricted use pesticides be applied only by or under the direct supervision of certified applicators, who have demonstrated competency to apply these pesticides. Certification programs are conducted by states, territories, tribes, and some federal agencies in accordance with national standards.
- The manual Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings gives healthcare providers a quick reference resource for the best toxicology and treatment information for patients who have been exposed to pesticides.
- The National Strategies for Health Care Providers Pesticide Initiative was established by EPA and the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Labor. The initiative is aimed at improving the training of health care providers in the recognition, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of pesticide poisonings among those who work with pesticides directly and in areas where pesticide residues are present.
Every pesticide licensed and introduced into the market before 1984 has been reevaluated, resulting in a Reregistration Eligibility Decision known as a RED. The goal of the reregistration program was to mitigate risks associated with the use of older pesticides while preserving their benefits. In many cases, EPA made significant changes to increase protection for workers as part of the reregistration process.
More recently, EPA began the required reevaluation of all existing pesticides, under the registration review program. Changes in science, public policy, and pesticide use practices will occur over time. Through the registration review program, the Agency periodically reevaluates pesticides to make sure that as change occurs, products in the marketplace can still be used safely. The registration review program challenges EPA to continuously improve its processes, science, and information management while maintaining a collaborative and open process for decision-making.