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New EPA Worker Protection Standard for Farmworkers

On September 28, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an advance publication of its revisions to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for farmworkers.  The revised WPS imposes new requirements for farm owners to protect workers against the risks of exposure to pesticides.  The Final Rule becomes effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which is expected within the next week.  The majority of the new obligations go into effect one year after the Rule becomes effective.

EPA estimates that compliance with the new rule, which was issued under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), will cost between $60.2 million and $66.9 million dollars per year, or about $5 per farmworker, according to EPA estimates. In contrast, the EPA expects the annual benefits (in terms of avoided, acute poisoning events) to total between $0.6 million and $2.6 million dollars per year in saved healthcare and other costs.  Trade groups have reportedly suggested that the EPA has significantly understated the true cost of the rule, while failing to quantify the proposed benefits.

Some of the major revisions to the WPS include:

  • Annual mandatory training to inform farmworkers about/regarding the required protections afforded to them.  Previously, training was required only once every five (5) years.
  • Expanded training includes instructions to reduce take-home exposure from pesticides on work clothing and other safety topics.
  • First-time ever minimum age requirement:  Children under 18 (except immediate family members of owner) are prohibited from handling pesticides.
  • Expanded mandatory posting of no-entry signs for the most hazardous pesticides.  The signs prohibit entry into pesticide-treated fields until residues decline to a safe level.
  • New no-entry application-exclusion zones up to 100 feet surrounding pesticide application equipment to protect workers and others from exposure to pesticide overspray.
  • Requires employer to provide multiple ways for farmworkers and their representatives to gain access to pesticide application information and safety data sheets – centrally-posted or by requesting records.
  • 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.
  • New anti-retaliation provisions.
  • Changes in personal protective equipment to be consistent with OSHA’s standards for ensuring respirators are effective, including fit test, medical evaluation and training.
  • 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.
  • Continue the exemption for farm owners and their immediate families with an expanded definition of immediate family.

EPA has published a comparison chart showing the differences between the current WPS and the revised standard.

While trade groups may mount a challenge to the new WPS, farm owners need to fully understand the new obligations that the revised WPS imposes on them.

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