Worker Protection Standard

In 1992, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued rules governing the protection of employees on farms, or in forests, nurseries and greenhouses from occupational exposure to agricultural pesticides.  These rules are called the Workers Protection Standards, or WPS.

In 2015, some significant revisions were made to the WPS which affect all agricultural employers and employees. This page explains many of the WPS requirements, including the new revisions.

For an overview, see the EPA’s Quick Reference Guide to the WPS as revised in 2015 and their comparison chart of the revised and existing WPS.

Who is covered by the Worker Protection Standard (WPS)?

  • Agricultural workers- perform tasks related to the cultivation and harvesting of plants on farms or in greenhouses, nurseries, or forests
  • Pesticide handlers- mix, load or apply agricultural pesticides; clean or repair application equipment; act as flaggers, etc.
  • Crop advisors- any person who is assessing pest numbers, damage, pesticide distribution, or the status or requirements of agricultural plants. A crop advisor may be a worker or handler depending on when the crop advising task is done:
    • If task is done during a pesticide application or while a restricted entry interval, REI, is in effect, the crop advisor is a handler under WPS.
    • If the task is done after the REI has expired, but within 30 days after the REI’s expiration, the crop advisor is a worker under WPS.

Employers are responsible for making sure workers and handlers receive the protections required by the pesticide labeling and the WPS. There are two types of employers:

  • Agricultural employers employ or contract for the services of workers or own/operate an establishment that employs workers
  • Handler employers hire pesticide handlers or are self-employed as handlers. This definition includes commercial applicators and companies which supply crop advisory services on agricultural establishments

This site explains many of the employer and handler requirements under the WPS, including the requirements added as part of the 2015 revision. Below is information on key WPS aspects as well as links to additional WPS educational material.
If you have any questions about the Worker Protection Standard, please contact Megan Patterson at megan.l.patterson@maine.gov

Resources for Compliance

Documents (pdf)

Training Videos

Other

 

Duties of worker and handler employers

Information at a central location

For the benefit of all employees, pesticide application information, pesticide safety information, and hazard information must be posted at an easily seen, central location that is readily accessible to employees at all time during normal work hours:

  • Pesticide application information (click here for a log for posting pesticide application info (pdf))
    • Name of pesticide applied, EPA registration number, and active ingredient(s)
    • Restricted-entry interval (REI)
    • Crop or site treated
    • Location and description of treated area(s)
    • Date and time the application started and ended

The pesticide application information must be kept for two years from the expiration date of the restricted entry interval (REI) of the pesticide applied.
This pesticide information must be posted whenever any worker or handler they employ is on their agricultural establishment when a pesticide has been applied or a restricted entry interval has been in effect within the last 30 days.

Employers must tell workers and handlers where the information is posted and allow them access. The information must remain legible and employees must be notified of any changes to the emergency medical facility information.

  • Hazard information
    • OSHA Safety Data Sheets, (SDS), for each pesticide product

Pesticide application information and hazard information requests
Workers and handlers may request a copy of, or access to, the pesticide application info and hazard info if:

    • The person is, or was, employed as a worker or handler by the establishment during the period when the info was to have been displayed and maintained, and
    • The request is made orally or in writing

•  A designated representative and/or treating medical personnel may also make a request for information on behalf of workers and handlers.

Information requested must be provided within 15 days of the request and info required is limited to the 2-year record retention requirement for pesticide applications.

Decontamination Supplies

Employers must provide a site where workers and handlers can wash pesticides and residues from their hands and body.

All decontamination sites must contain:

  • Water (1 gallon per worker and 3 gallons per handler and early entry worker) must be of a quality and temperature that it will not cause injury or illness if it contacts the skin, eyes, or is swallowed. Cannot be the same water source that is used for mixing pesticides, unless additional precautions are taken to prevent contamination of the water (e.g. back-flow prevention device, air gap, etc.)
  • Soap and single-use towels in amounts enough for workers/handler needs. Hand sanitizers or wet towelettes do not meet the requirement for soap and towels.

Decontamination sites for handlers and early entry workers must also include:

  • Clean change of clothes, such as coveralls
  • 1 pint of water immediately available in a portable container for each handler when applying a pesticide requiring protective eyewear.

Handler employers must also make available:

  • Emergency eye flush water if the pesticide label calls for protective eyewear or handler is mixing/loading any pesticide using a closed system operating under pressure. This mean the employer must provide:
  • A system capable of delivering gently running water at a rate of at least 0.4 gallons per minute for at least 15 minutes, or
  • At least 6 gallons of water in container(s) suitable for providing a gently running stream of water for eye flushing for 15 minutes.

A decontamination site must be reasonably accessible (within 1/4 mile of the employees' work site or the nearest point of vehicular access) and outside any treated area or area under an REI.

Emergency Assistance
When any handler or worker may have been poisoned or injured by pesticides, an employer must promptly make transportation available to an operating medical facility. Employers must provide the victim and treating medical personnel with:

  • copies of applicable SDS, pesticide product name, EPA registration number, and active ingredient(s) for each pesticide product the person may have been exposed to
  • type of application or how the pesticide was used on the agricultural establishment
  • the circumstances that could have resulted in exposure to the pesticide

 

Pesticide safety training

There is no grace period for WPS training. The agricultural employer must ensure that WPS training is completed within the last 12 months before:

  • Any worker enters a treated area on an agricultural establishment where, within the last 30 days, a WPS-labeled pesticide product has been used or an REI for such pesticide has been in effect.
  • Any handler conducts any handling task.

Handlers and workers must be trained every 12 months unless they are licensed private or commercial pesticide applicators, or certified as a crop advisor by a program acknowledged appropriate in writing by the EPA, or State or Tribal agency responsible for pesticide enforcement.

  • Training records (sample) for each worker/handler must be kept on the establishment for 2 years from the date of the training, and the records must include:
  • Worker’s or handler’s printed name and signature
  • Date of training
  • Trainer’s name
  • Evidence of the trainer’s qualification to train
  • Employer’s name
  • Information to identify which EPA-approved training materials were used for the training (i.e., the EPA document number or EPA approval number for the materials)

Who can conduct WPS training?
Training may only be conducted by:

  • A certified applicator
  • An individual who has completed an EPA-approved train-the-trainer program-
  • Iowa State has an online EPA-approved Train-the Trainer course to become certified to conduct WPS training for agricultural workers.
  • A person designated as a trainer of certified pesticide applicators, workers, and handlers by a state, federal, or tribal agency having jurisdiction.

How is training to be conducted?
Trainers of workers or handlers must:

  • Use EPA-approved training materials,
  • Present the training orally from written materials or audio-visually,
  • Present the info in a manner the trainees can understand, using a translator if necessary,
  • Be present at all times during the training to respond to trainees’ questions, and
  • Ensure training quality by providing an environment conducive to training that is reasonably free of distractions.

Information Exchange
An operator of an agricultural establishment must be informed when a pesticide is to be applied on his/her property by a commercial applicator/handler, and the commercial applicator/handler is also required to provide the operator/agricultural employer with information about the pesticide application that is, or will be, performed.

  • The agricultural employer must inform the hired commercial applicator of:
  • The specific location and description of any treated areas on the agricultural establishment under an REI that the handler/applicator may be in, (or walk within   mile of), and
  • Any restrictions on entering those areas.
  • Additionally, the commercial applicator/handler must make sure the agricultural employer is aware of the:
  • Specific location and description of the area(s) on the agricultural establishment that are to be treated with a pesticide
  • Date, start, and estimated end times of the application
  • Pesticide product name, EPA registration number, and active ingredients
  • REI for the pesticide product
  • Whether the pesticide product labeling requires posting, oral notification, or both, and
  • Any other specific requirements of the pesticide product labeling concerning protection of workers and other persons during or after the application.

 

Additional handler employer requirements

Personal protective equipment for handlers

Agricultural employers must provide handlers with the PPE required by the pesticide labeling and be sure it is:

  • Clean and in operating condition
  • Worn and used according to the manufacturer’s instructions, (handlers are individually responsible for following the pesticide labeling directions and wearing the clothing and PPE required by the pesticide product labeling.
  • Inspected before each day of use
  • Repaired or replaced as needed

WPS respirator use requirements
When a respirator is required by product labeling, the correct respirator as described by the labeling must be used, and the agricultural employers must provide handlers with:

  • A medical evaluation to ensure the handler is physically able to safely wear the respirator,
  • Training in respirator use, and
  • A fit test to ensure the respirator fits correctly. Fit testing must follow OSHA protocols. There are two types of fit test methods available:
    • Qualitative fit test: easy-to-preform, inexpensive method that does not require specialized equipment. This test relies on the respirator user’s response to a test agent, such as banana oil, saccharin, or irritant smoke.
    • Quantitative fit test: an instrument samples the concentration of a test agent in the ambient atmosphere and inside the user’s face piece. The concentration of the test agent allows the instrument to calculate a quantitative fit factor that indicates how well the face piece fits the user.

The handler employer must keep records for two years showing proof of medical evaluations, fit testing, and respirator training for each handler applying pesticides whose product labeling requires a respirator.

For more information about agricultural employer requirements regarding PPE, refer to the EPA’s How to Comply Manual. Chapter 3 explains worker employer requirements for PPE and Chapter 4 explains handler employer requirements for PPE.

 

Application exclusion zone

The Application Exclusion Zone, or AEZ, is a zone or area surrounding pesticide application equipment that exists only during specific outdoor pesticide applications. The AEZ is measured horizontally in all directions from the application equipment, forming a zone around the equipment.

Visit here for animated scenarios of an AEZ and how it moves with application equipment.

The size of the AEZ is determined by the application method and spray quality.
How to determine AEZ size.

  • The AEZ must be a minimum of 100 feet when the pesticide is applied:
    • by air (fixed wing or helicopter),
    • by air blast,
    • as a spray using a spray quality smaller than medium (i.e. fine, very fine, or extra fine), or
    • as a fumigant, smoke, mist, or fog.
  • The AEZ must be a minimum of 25 feet when the pesticide is:
    • NOT applied in a manner that would require a 100 foot AEZ, and
    • sprayed from a height of greater than 12 inches from the planting medium (soil) using a spray quality of medium or larger (i.e. medium, coarse, very coarse, extra coarse, or ultra coarse)
  • No AEZ is required when a pesticide is applied in a manner other than those covered above (i.e. less than 12 inches from the soil with medium or larger spray quality)

For answers to some frequently asked AEZ questions see the EPA’s Q&A Fact Sheet for AEZ.

For guidance on spray quality, review this droplet classification chart

 

Additional worker employer requirements

Posting and notification requirements

Agricultural employer requirements: notification of entry restrictions

There are different ways to notify workers (posting, oral, double notification) and different situations in which to use each method.
When is worker notification of entry restrictions required?

  • Double notification is required when a pesticide product labeling requires both the posting of warning signs to treated areas AND oral notification to workers.
  • Post warning signs:
    • When a pesticide is applied to an outdoor production area and the REI on the product labeling calls for an REI greater than 48 hours.
    • When a pesticide is applied to an enclosed space production area and the REI is greater than 4 hours.
  • Post warning signs OR give oral notification:
    • When a pesticide is applied to an outdoor production area and the REI is equal to or lesser than 48 hours.

For more info on oral notifications and the criteria for posted warning signs visit this EPA web page.

 

Early entry workers

An early entry worker may be directed to enter an area where an REI is in effect only in the following limited situations and if all criteria are met. All early-entry workers must be at least 18 years old.

  • Early entry work with ‘no contact’ means the worker may not touch anything treated by the pesticide to which the REI applies, or anything that may have pesticide residue on it, even if the worker is wearing PPE.
  • There are exceptions for short term activities in which an early entry worker may enter a treated area with an REI in effect if all the following criteria are met:
  • No hand labor activity is performed
  • The time in treated areas, in which the REI is in effect, does not exceed one hour in any 24-hour period for any early entry worker
  • No early entry worker is allowed in the treated area during the first 4 hours after the application ends
  • Any inhalation exposure level listed on the pesticide product labeling has been reached or any ventilation criteria as set by WPS (see table here) or on the product labeling has been met.

 

WPS exemptions

For owners of agricultural establishments: this exemption applies only to owners and their immediate family members on any agricultural establishment where a majority of the establishment is owned by one or more members of the same immediate family.

  • Owners must still provide full WPS protections for workers and handlers who are not immediate family members
  • the immediate family exemption is only for owners of agricultural establishments; there is no immediate family exemption for owners of commercial pesticide handling establishments.

For certified crop advisors: exemptions apply only to certified crop advisors and only for crop advising tasks being completed in a treated area. The certified crop advisor can determine the appropriate PPE (for themselves only) to wear when doing advising tasks during the REI. In addition, the employer of the certified crop advisor does not have to provide:

  • the routine decontamination supplies and eye-flushing supplies
  • emergency assistance, including providing transportation to a medical facility
  • access to the labeling or application-specific information regarding the safe use of pesticides
  • sufficient information and directions to the certified crop advisor to ensure that they can comply with the WPS

 

WPS inspection

What to expect when we unexpectedly visit:

The inspector
The Board of Pesticides Control has five districts throughout the State that are routinely monitored by inspectors. They inspect all types of pesticide use and sales, respond to complaints about pesticides, and offer courtesy visits and educational information to help ensure pesticides are used and distributed properly.

The inspection
If pesticides are applied to plants at your farm, forest, nursery or greenhouse, the federal Worker Protection Standard (WPS) will be one of the things inquired about via a thorough interview and checklist process. All of our inspections are designed to check for compliance, but they are also intended to keep you informed about pesticide laws, including WPS and the protections it provides. Our goal is to have everyone involved with pesticides aware of the rules and doing their best to live up to them.

WPS General inspection form
WPS Family business inspection form

When
In most cases, our inspectors will come to your business unannounced in order to perform an accurate assessment of your pesticide activities. Inspectors do take into consideration the time constraints of peak growing season when scheduling these unexpected visits throughout the year.

How long
The entire inspection, including WPS, averages about 1 to 2 hours. The WPS portion can range from as little as 5 minutes for a one-person business, to over an hour for complex operations with many employees.

Interview process
During the WPS portion of the inspection, we will first determine if you operate a family or non-family business, and then use the appropriate checklist to determine if you are in compliance. We will ask many detailed questions of the owner or manager with whom we are conducting the inspection, and will also interview workers and pesticide handlers to confirm they are given the required protections.

WPS Handler inspection form
WPS Worker inspection form

Compliance
Our inspector will point out violations noted during the inspections (if any) and will tell you how to reach compliance. Occasionally there are additional violations found during later review of inspection data. In many instances, no additional enforcement action will result from the compliance issues noted. However, you should be aware that whether a more formal enforcement response is warranted is left to the sole discretion of the seven member Board of Pesticides Control.

Our inspectors have direct one-on-one contact with the entire pesticide-using community, as well as with the general public. They have a unique opportunity to provide specific information to keep people and the environment safe, and to promote compliance with pesticide regulations. Our goal is to help keep you and your employees safe and working within the law.