On June 6-7, 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) convened the "Initial Stakeholder Meeting for the National Assessment of the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) Program" in Austin, Texas. The Austin meeting represented the official launch of the Agency's national assessment of the WPS program, beginning a multi-phase process that will take place over the next 18 to 24 months to conduct a comprehensive review of EPA's worker protection program, including implementation and enforcement. The national assessment will help the Agency determine whether the WPS program is adequately meeting its intended goals of addressing the risks to agricultural workers.
Background on the Worker Protection Standard
The revised Worker Protection Standard (WPS) regulation was issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August 1992, and became fully effective on January 1, 1995. The WPS was put in place to reduce the occupational risk of pesticide poisonings and injuries among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers on farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses. The rule provides protections to over three and a half million people who work with pesticides at over 560,000 workplaces. The WPS contains requirements for
- Pesticide safety training;
- Notification of pesticide applications;
- Use of personal protective equipment;
- Restricted entry intervals following pesticide applications;
- Decontamination supplies; and
- Emergency medical assistance.
The WPS represented a significant strengthening of the occupational protections for agricultural workers and involved substantial changes in agricultural practice for employers to comply with the new requirements. The WPS also required the Office of Pesticide Programs to undertake one of its most extensive regulatory implementation efforts ever. EPA has been engaged in its WPS implementation effort for five years during which time EPA's state regulatory partners and other stakeholders have identified numerous concerns with implementation of the regulation. A recent series of reports and recommendations from the Government Accounting Office (GAO), the Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee (CHPAC), and various worker advocacy groups have identified other areas of concern with the WPS program as well. All of these factors have led to the launching of this national assessment of the worker protection program.
The National Assessment of the WPS Program
EPA is initiating its national assessment of the WPS program to assess the effectiveness of its WPS implementation and enforcement efforts, and address the GAO, CHPAC, and other stakeholder recommendations on EPA's regulatory efforts to protect the health of agricultural workers and children working in agricultural areas. The goals of the national assessment are to:
- Generate a consortium of interests committed to the WPS program and the assessment;
- Identify key stakeholder concerns/issues with the WPS program that need to be addressed;
- Assess the current program status and determine program needs and priorities;
- Develop a comprehensive set of recommendations for WPS program enhancements and possible regulatory changes that EPA should consider;
- Develop mechanisms to foster partnerships that can effect positive change in the program and make the program work effectively; and
- Develop the infrastructure for a continuing forum that will address future WPS issues.
The national assessment will initially focus on the following key areas of EPA's worker protection program:
- Effectiveness of EPA's WPS implementation and enforcement efforts;
- EPA's oversight of state programs and the effectiveness and consistency of state implementation and enforcement of the WPS;
- Outreach and communications with the affected regulatory community and stakeholders;
- Scope, quality and delivery of worker and handler training programs;
- Special needs/concerns of children and pregnant women as agricultural workers; and
- Strategies for educating health care workers and the medical community.
The Austin Stakeholder Meeting - June 6-7, 2000
The Austin meeting was the first of three national stakeholder meetings being held to invite stakeholder participation in the national assessment. EPA feels it is critical to engage a broad array of WPS stakeholders in the assessment effort. The Austin meeting began the important process of building a coalition of interested stakeholders that are willing to participate in the assessment effort, and will remain active in resolving WPS program issues and effecting change in the operation of the program. The primary objectives of the Austin meeting were to:
- Articulate the Agency's objectives for the national assessment and outline the nature of the stakeholder participation being sought;
- Provide an opportunity for public input on the structure, design and operation of the national assessment;
- Give stakeholders an opportunity to identify WPS issues/concerns they think EPA should consider in its national assessment of the WPS program; and
- Have stakeholders identify key focal areas/priorities for the assessment.
The first half day of the two-day Austin meeting consisted of general presentations and panel discussions to provide participants with background information on the WPS program, and also to provide an opportunity for a discussion of the goals and desired outcomes of the meeting as well as the overall assessment process. The remaining one and a half days took place in four small group break-out sessions that focused on identifying stakeholder concerns and gathering their input on four main discussion topic areas:
- WPS Outreach, Communications and Training Issues;
- WPS Enforcement Issues;
- Rethinking/Improving the WPS; and
- The Proposed Structure and Process for the National WPS Assessment.
Summary of Meeting Outcomes
The Agency received extensive comments from stakeholders during the break-out sessions, resulting in the identification of many specific concerns with the WPS program and its implementation. Stakeholders also provided input on the national assessment process and made numerous recommendations for WPS program improvements. The last part of the Austin meeting was dedicated to summarizing the concerns and issues raised by the various stakeholders in the break-out sessions and discussing the theme that emerged from the meeting. This process resulted in the identification of the following broad themes areas and underlying issues that will serve as focal points for the assessment process as it moves forward:
- Training Issues: funding and resource distribution, program and materials evaluation, handler training, training content, training quality and consistency, training materials, train-the-trainer networks, alternative training systems, re-training, and training record-keeping requirements;
- Enforcement Issues: funding, EPA oversight of state programs, quality and consistency of state WPS inspections, defining WPS inspection criteria, national reporting, WPS penalty policy, incident reporting and tracking, and community/advocacy group involvement;
- Complaint and Retaliation Issues: improving the complaint process, educating workers on WPS and the complaint process, and resolving retaliation problems;
- Communications Issues: general WPS outreach with stakeholders, hazard communication information for workers, language and cultural barriers, and outreach and coordination with health care providers;
- Children's Health Issues: adequacy of the WPS restricted entry intervals for protecting children under 12 years of age, special provisions needed for protecting children, and appropriateness of children working in agriculture; and
- Other Issues: decontamination, engineering controls, WPS risk assessments, inter-agency coordination, funding, and the national assessment process.
[NOTE: the full Austin Meeting Report provides a more complete record of the specific concerns and recommendations that were identified by stakeholders during the small group break-out sessions and general meeting discussions.]
The Austin meeting represents a significant milestone in initiating the national assessment and setting a course for the process, but it is important to note that the WPS assessment is an ongoing process. EPA is seeking the involvement of stakeholders who wish to participate in the next steps of the national assessment process but were unable to attend the Austin meeting. Next steps include:
1. Creation of WPS Assessment Work Group and Working Committees
As part of the national assessment, EPA intends to form a "WPS Assessment Work Group." This workgroup will help provide direction to the assessment process, the different assessment working committees, and the overall WPS program. The workgroup will be comprised of representatives from EPA, Departments of Agriculture, Labor, and Health and Human Services, state regulators, state extension service safety educators, farm worker advocacy groups, farm worker service/training associations, agricultural employer associations, farm worker clinicians networks, and other interested stakeholders.
One of the cornerstones of the proposed assessment process is the formation of a number of small working committees that will more thoroughly focus on and address the broad themes areas and underlying issues identified in Austin. The assessment working committees will be made up of representatives from the WPS stakeholders who have volunteered to be active participants in the assessment process.
2. Additional Stakeholder Meetings
The Austin meeting was only the first of three stakeholder meetings that are being held to invite stakeholder participation in the national assessment effort. The Agency is planning two additional stakeholder meetings that will invite continued input on the WPS program and the national WPS assessment process. The two remaining stakeholder meetings are being planned for different regions of the country to assure that different regional perspectives are adequately represented in the assessment process.
The next stakeholder meeting will be held in Sacramento, California, in December 2000, and a third stakeholder meeting will be held in Orlando, Florida in the Spring of 2001. EPA will be disseminating additional information about the arrangements for the next stakeholder meetings as soon as it becomes available.
For More Information
For more information about the status of the national assessment process, plans for future stakeholder meetings, or how to become involved in the various workgroups being formed, interested parties are encouraged to visit the Certification and Worker Protection Branch's web page www.epa.gov/pesticides/safety or call the Branch office directly at 703-305-7666.