You feel an itch on your face, you instantly scratch it. Your eyes water up after yawning, you immediately rub them. You feel sweat on your face, you wipe it off—maybe even with the sleeve of your shirt. These are activities many of us do every day, and we probably don’t think about it. But, what if you or your employees are working in an agricultural field, around plants and produce that was recently sprayed with pesticides?
You could be rubbing poisonous pesticides on your skin and/or eyes.
In the agriculture industry, field workers—including those who work in indoor nurseries—come in contact with pesticides every day. In addition to getting the residue on their hands and clothes while working, they can also be exposed to it through the air and through irrigation water.
The Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for field workers was established in 1992 to address these exposures and required field workers to be trained every five years in pesticide safety. Recent changes to the WPS now require training before anyone begins working in the field, and on a yearly basis thereafter.
What your employees need to know
The presence of pesticides remains long after the chemical was first sprayed. Employees need to be aware of the following risk factors:
- Residue: Dried form of the chemical found on plants, produce, and ground after a spray. The substance can easily get on an employee’s clothes and skin if proper precautions are not taken.
- Chemigation: Pesticide residue found in irrigation water. Workers are advised never to drink or wash in irrigation water.
- Drift: Airborne residue that workers can potentially breathe in if it moves into your work area either by a shift in the wind or someone spraying in the wrong direction.
Some areas in the field may be marked with restricted entry interval (REI) signs. The interval is a period of time after a pesticide application where no field worker may enter the treated area, and is clearly marked on the sign.
The REI helps protect employees from exposure to potentially hazardous levels of pesticide residue. The length of an REI depends on the type of pesticide used.
What your employees need to do
When working in the field, always wear protective clothing. This includes gloves, long sleeves, and long pants to help minimize potential contact with your skin. Employees should remember to wash their hands when they break for water, lunch, or a snack, and when they leave for the day. Remind your workers never to eat produce from the field and to never eat lunch or a snack in the field.
Restricted Entry Interval sign, which includes space to identify the type of pesticide, date it was applied, and length of time where access is restricted.
What to cover at your safety meeting
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) requires the following to be covered during pesticide safety training:
- Hand Washing: Use soap and water before all restroom, food, and water breaks—and when leaving for the day.
- First Aid: Pre-planned emergency response in case of pesticide exposure, including the proper eye-flushing technique.
- REIs: What the regulations state and where the signs are.
- Bodily exposure: Avoid contact with the skin, eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Pesticide containers: Must remain on site. No one should ever take these home.
- Employee rights: Workers have the right to information about pesticides they might be exposed to and to be protected against retaliatory action when exercising those rights.
Symptoms of pesticide-related illness are similar to the flu and include headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, eye pain, and skin rash. Workers should seek medical attention if these symptoms occur.
By being aware of surroundings and following proper precautions, your employees keep the pesticides away from the eyes, skin, nose, and mouth. They’re also more productive, and will enjoy a much safer workplace.