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Pesticide Worker Safety

Protections for Workers Who Must Enter Pesticide-Treated Areas Early

The Worker Protection Standard (WPS) allows entry into a pesticide-treated area that remains under a restricted-entry interval (REI) only in a few narrow work situations. When early entry is permitted under the WPS, special protections must be provided for the early-entry workers.

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What are the work situations where early entry is allowed?

Early entry involving contact with pesticide-treated surfaces is permitted in only the following work situations:

  • Short-term tasks that last less than one hour and do not involve hand labor.
  • Emergency tasks that take place because of an agricultural emergency.
  • Specific tasks approved by EPA through a formal exception process.

Short-Term Tasks

Hand labor is any agricultural activity performed by hand, or with hand tools, that might cause a worker to have substantial contact with surfaces (such as plants, plant parts or soil) that may contain pesticide residues. Examples of hand labor tasks include:

  • Harvesting.
  • Detasseling. 
  • Thinning.
  • Weeding.
  • Topping.
  • Planting.
  • Girdling.
  • Caning.
  • Sucker removal.
  • Pruning,
  • Disbudding,
  • Roguing.
  • Packing produce into containers in the field.

Note: The definition of hand labor does not include operating, moving or repairing irrigation or watering equipment. These tasks can be performed during the REI, but only under approved situations and with proper early-entry personal protective equipment (PPE).

Emergency Tasks

A state, tribal, or federal agency must declare that circumstances exist, have occurred, or are forecast that might cause an agricultural emergency where your establishment is located. Examples of such circumstances include:

  • Flooding.
  • Hail.
  • High winds.
  • Hurricane.
  • Tornado.
  • Freeze.
  • Frost.

Specific Tasks with Regulatory Exemption

EPA has approved two specific tasks for early entry through EPA’s formal regulatory exemption process:

  • Limited-contact tasks that could not have been foreseen, cannot be delayed, and do not involve hand labor.
  • Irrigation tasks that cannot be delayed, involve limited contact with treated surfaces, and that will take more than one hour in the REI area to perform.

Limited-contact tasks are tasks where early-entry workers’ only contact with treated surfaces – including soil, water, surfaces of plants, crops, and any equipment – is minimal and is limited to their feet, lower legs, hands, and forearms. Hand labor tasks are not limited-contact tasks. Examples of limited-contact tasks are:

  • Operating or repairing weather monitoring and frost protection equipment.
  • Repairing greenhouse heating, air conditioning and ventilation equipment.
  • Repairing non-application and non-irrigation field equipment.
  • Maintaining and moving beehives.

Irrigation tasks are tasks related to operating, moving or repairing irrigation or watering equipments and where early-entry workers’ only contact with treated surfaces – including soil, water, surfaces of plants, crops, and irrigation equipment – is minimal and is limited to their feet, lower legs, hands, and forearms.

There are specific requirements and conditions that must be met for employees to make use of the EPA-approved exceptions for limited contact activities and irrigation activities. Read more about these exceptions at:

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Under what conditions is early entry allowed for these work situations?

There are specific conditions that must be met for early-entry for short-term tasks, limited-contact tasks, irrigation tasks, and agricultural emergency tasks. Some examples of these conditions are provided in the following table. However, these lists are not complete; see Unit 4 of the How to Comply Manual and the two Federal Register notices from May 3, 1995 listed above for all of the details.

Condition Short Term Limited Contact Irrigation Agricultural Emergency
Wait at least 4 hours after the pesticide application is completed?
Wait until inhalation exposure level on the pesticide label has been reached or any WPS ventilation criteria have been met?
Maximum amount of time allowed per 24-hour period?
1 hour
8 hours
8 hours
No limit
Allowed for pesticides whose labeling requires double notification (verbal notification and posting signs)?
Yes, allowed for all WPS pesticides
Yes, allowed for all WPS pesticides
Are hand labor tasks permitted?
Yes, but must be related to the ag emergency
Employer provides special protections for early-entry workers regarding training, instructions, decontamination supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE)?
Need for entry could/could not have been anticipated
Doesn’t matter
Only if need could not have been foreseen
Only if need could not have been foreseen
Only if circumstances could not have been anticipated when pesticide was applied
Entry is/is not an economic necessity
Doesn’t matter
Only if delay would cause significant economic loss
Only if delay would cause significant economic loss
Early entry is only practice to prevent or reduce a substantial economic loss

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What are the special protections for early-entry workers?

Worker employers must provide the following additional protections to early-entry workers who contact anything that has been treated with a pesticide:

  • Complete pesticide safety training, instructions, and information.
  • Decontamination supplies.
  • Personal protection equipment (PPE).

Training and Instructions

Employers must make sure each early-entry worker is trained as a WPS worker before entering a pesticide-treated area during an REI. The 5-day grace period for training that applies to other workers does not apply to early-entry workers.

Employers must instruct early-entry workers, in a manner they can understand:

  • How to put on, use, and take off early-entry PPE correctly.
  • About the importance of washing thoroughly after removing PPE.
  • How to prevent, recognize, and give correct first aid for heat illness (too much heat stress).

Employers must inform early-entry workers, in a manner they can understand, about the safety information and instructions on the labeling of the pesticide(s) to which the REI applies, including:

  • Human hazard statements and precautions.
  • First aid.
  • Signs and symptoms of poisoning.
  • PPE required for early entry.
  • Any other precautions or instructions related to safe use or early entry.

Decontamination Supplies

Worker employers must provide early-entry workers with:

  • Water - enough for routine washing and emergency eye flushing.
  • Soap and single use towels – enough for the needs of early-entry workers.

Employers must make sure that the decontamination supplies:

  • Are not in an area being treated with pesticides.
  • Are not in an area under an REI unless that location is necessary for the supplies to be reasonably accessible to early-entry workers.
  • Are reasonably accessible to and not more than ¼ mile from early-entry workers.

A worker employer must provide each early-entry worker with at least 1 pint of emergency eye flush water when the pesticide labeling requires protective eyewear. The emergency eye flush water must be immediately accessible.

At the site where early-entry workers take off their PPE, the worker employer must provide soap, clean towels, and enough water to allow early-entry workers to wash thoroughly after removing their PPE.

PPE for Early-Entry Workers

Employers must:

  • provide their early-entry workers with the early-entry PPE required by the pesticide labeling;
  • make sure they wear the PPE; and
  • make sure they use the PPE correctly.

The specific duties regarding PPE are the same as for employers of handlers.

Where can I get more information?

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