In December, the Environmental Protection Agency announced some potential changes in 2018 to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), a set of policies aimed at preventing harmful chemical exposure for farmworkers and pesticide handlers. The WPS, which was updated in 2015 under the Obama Administration to include stricter, more detailed guidelines for the handling and application of pesticides, ensures workers are limited in their exposure to dangerous chemicals that could affect their health and ability to work.
The WPS requires employers to inform farmworkers about the pesticides they work with and how to safely manage them, to protect workers by keeping them out of newly sprayed fields and providing personal protective equipment if necessary, and to mitigate exposure by providing on-site wash stations and medical assistance. There are many complicated rules that fall under the WPS and—since its revision in 2015—the new updated guidelines have been rolled out slowly. In fact, 2018 is the year in which the last of the updates will go into effect.
After gathering feedback about the implemented 2015 WPS updates from the public, the EPA announced likely changes to three rules: the minimum age requirement for handling pesticides, the need to establish a designated representative who receives pesticide safety information from the employer and distributes it to other workers, and the need for pesticide application exclusion zones.
Currently, pesticide handlers (those who mix and spray pesticides) must be 18 years of age unless they are the farm owner or family member, and they must have a significant amount of training before they can start. It is unclear if the EPA will remove the age requirement completely, but doing so could expose a younger, more vulnerable population of farmworkers to high levels of pesticides. The second rule change—ending the designation of a farmworker representative responsible for obtaining pesticide information—could also be quite detrimental as it lessens the authority farmworkers have to access information about pesticides and question their use. The third change, though, could have the worst outcome, as application exclusion zones keep workers out of direct contact with recently sprayed pesticides. Too much direct exposure to these chemicals can lead to severe illness, more emergency department visits, and fewer days worked—consequences that neither workers nor their employees want.
Right now, we do not know if these changes to the WPS will actually be made, but it is worrisome that the EPA is looking to change rules when the action could do more damage than good. To stay updated on the issue, visit farmworkerjustice.org and sign up for updates through their home page. To contact the EPA directly or to learn how to stay up-to-date on EPA rulemaking and regulations, click here.
Link to the original EPA notice: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-12/documents/prepubcopy_agwps_notice.pdf
More information on the WPS: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-worker-safety/agricultural-worker-protection-standard-wps