EPA moves to revise worker protection standards

AFP Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Sept. 29, 2015) — The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week the revision of the Worker Protection Standard.
Calling the revision the most sweeping update in 20 years, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said in a press call Sept. 28, “We will not turn our backs on those people that feed this nation.”
McCarthy said under the revisions, two million farm workers and their families on farms, greenhouses, nurseries and forests would be better protected from pesticides.
She said that each year 1,800 to 3,000 preventable incidents occur and that many more are unreported.
“The existing rule is not working,” she said.
The regulation will be effective about 14 months after publication in the Federal Register, estimated for Oct. 8.
This final rule seeks to protect and reduce risks for agricultural workers who perform hand labor tasks in pesticide-treated crops such as harvesting, thinning and pruning; and for pesticide handlers who mix, load and apply pesticides. This regulation does not cover persons working with livestock.
McCarthy stressed that children will be prohibited from handling pesticides. Under the new provision, the minimum age for handlers and early-entry workers will be 18 years.
The rule retains the exemptions from almost all WPS requirements for owners and their immediate family members.
In addition, McCarthy noted that the definition of “immediate family” is expanded.
As well as the spouse, parents, stepparents, foster parents, children, step children, foster children, brothers and sisters, the new provisions include all in-laws, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and first cousins.
McCarthy pointed to several other key revisions.
The mandatory training for farmworkers, currently every five years, will be annually.
No grace period will apply; workers must be trained before they work in an area where a pesticide has been used or a restricted-entry interval has been in effect in the past 30 days.
The training mandated includes instruction on reduction of take-home exposure from pesticides on work clothing and other safety topics.
Record keeping to improve the states’ ability to follow up on pesticide violations and enforce compliance will be mandatory.
Farmworker training and application-specific data records must be kept for two years.
Water amounts for routine washing, emergency eye flushing and other decontamination are more specific under the new provisions.
The posting of no-entry signs for the most hazardous pesticides, and the signs prohibiting entry into pesticide-treated fields are expanded.
Other hazard communications are strengthened under the new provisions.
Personnel protective equipment will be consistent with the Department of Labor’s standards. For example, respirators will require a fit test, training, and medical evaluation that conforms to OSHA standards for any handler requirement specified by the label.
Record keeping will be required as well. Some exceptions apply to certified crop advisors.
New anti-retaliation provisions for whistle-blowers, which includes migrant workers, will be comparable with DOL’s.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said, “Workplace illnesses and injury contribute greatly to economic inequality, and can have a devastating impact on workers and their families.”
He added that far too many workers, especially those in agriculture, face conditions that challenge their health and safety. Regarding the workplace, he continued,  “No one should ever have to put their lives at risk.”
President of the United Farm Workers, Arturo Rodriguez, recalled instances such as cancer rates in California’s Central Valley in the 1980s and how UFW worked in California, Texas and Washington in the early 2000s. He said, “Today is a dream come true for all the folks that fought so hard in the early days.”
Rodriguez emphasized that farm workers have not been afforded the same protections as other workers, and that most have been Mexican, Philippine or black. He said, “It’s never too late to do the right thing,” and farm workers now can “look to a new future.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation commented in a statement that they are reviewing the final rule and hope that EPA veered to a science-based approach. Paul Schlegel, director of environment and energy policy, said, “Farm Bureau shares the agency’s desire to protect workers, but we are concerned that the agency is piling regulatory costs on farmers and ranchers that bear little if any relation to actual safety issues.”
AFBF noted their commitment to the safe and effective use of all crop protection tools.
Schlegel pointed out, “We are hopeful the agency’s final rule will reflect our concerns and protect farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to promote a safe, productive environment.”
The site,, includes a link to the full regulation, a fact sheet, a comparison of the new protections to the existing protections, plus more data on worker safety.