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Pesticide Worker Safety

How EPA Protects Workers from Pesticide Risk

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Protecting workers from potential adverse effects of pesticides is an important function of EPA's Pesticide Program. Workers in a number of occupations may be exposed to pesticides when they:

  • Prepare pesticides for use, such as by mixing a concentrated pesticide with water or when loading the pesticide into application equipment.
  • Apply pesticides, such as in an agricultural or industrial setting. 
  • Enter an area where pesticides have been applied to perform tasks, such as picking crops. 

The risk to workers from exposure to a pesticide is estimated through risk assessment, which is part of the process to determine if a product meets the safety standards and can be registered. If the risk to workers is determined to be of concern, risk management tools may be used to manage those risks by reducing exposure.

Risk Assessment

  • Pesticide producers must provide extensive test data for EPA to assess risks to human health and the environment from the use of a pesticide.  Read more about risk assessment.
    • EPA scientists analyze these data in the context of the proposed use patterns to identify risks of concern, including risks to workers.
    • When a risk of concern exists, risk management options are considered.
  • In addition to this risk assessment approach, EPA is using the findings from other data sources to inform regulatory policies and practice.
    • One such source is the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), which is looking at the relationships between pesticide exposure and possible long-term health effects to farmers and their families.
    • Other sources of information include incident data and the scientific literature. 

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Risk Management

  • If risks of concern to workers are identified in the risk assessment, we evaluate potential risk management measures that could reduce those risks.
  • We have taken numerous actions to restrict the most toxic pesticides. Some of these actions were to implement protections for workers who may be exposed to pesticides.
    • EPA establishes limits on how a pesticide can be used so communities can experience the benefits of a pesticide, without harmful effects.
    • In some cases, we have ended the use of a pesticide on certain use sites or for all uses because of worker risk.
  • EPA’s risk management process results in labeling that provides directions for use, storage and disposal that, when followed, protects workers, the public and the environment.
  • Potential risk management measures on labeling include:
    • reductions in application rates and changes to directions for use;
    • extending the restricted-entry interval;
    • requiring engineering controls, such as use of closed systems for mixing and loading to reduce potential exposure to those who mix and load pesticides; and 
    • specific personal protective equipment, such as gloves, to protect users against risks associated with the product contacting their skin.

Worker Safety Program

Complementing the risk assessment and management processes described above, EPA implements several programs to protect workers. These programs reach into the field to provide information and training to workers and health care providers, as well as protections through regulation, to workers exposed to pesticides through their occupations. The worker safety program consists of the:

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