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June 12, 2006
Boot Camp for Pesticide Workers

Because pesticides are so commonly used, it's easy for workers to forget that these products contain some very hazardous chemicals--substances that can injure or even kill those who fail to take the proper precautions. Proper training to prevent dangerous exposures is essential.

Begin with the basics. Basic training for pesticide workers begins with the following information:

  • Where and in what form pesticides may be encountered during work activities
  • Hazards of pesticides resulting from toxicity and exposure, including acute and chronic effects, delayed effects, and sensitization
  • Routes through which pesticides can enter the body
  • Signs and symptoms of common types of pesticide poisoning
  • Emergency first aid for pesticide injuries or poisonings
  • How to obtain emergency medical care
  • Routine and emergency decontamination procedures, including emergency eye-flushing techniques

What the well-dressed worker is wearing.

Why It Matters...
  • EPA estimates that 10,000 to 20,000 workers are diagnosed with pesticide poisoning every year.
  • EPA regulations, as specified in 40 CFR 170.130, require employers to train employees who use pesticides on the job.
  • OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) also requires worker training, as well as warning labels and access to material safety data sheets (MSDSs) when employees handle or work around pesticides on the job.

When you've covered the basics, it's time to move on to personal protective equipment (PPE). Employees who handle and use pesticides must wear the PPE specified on the pesticide container label. More information about protection can be found in the MSDS for the product. Minimum protection when working with pesticides includes long sleeves, long pants, shoes, socks, rubber gloves, and splash-proof eye protection. Respirators may be required when there is the risk of inhaling mist, dust, or fumes.

Make sure workers don't get mixed up when mixing. Unless proper precautions are taken, harmful exposures can easily occur when employees are preparing pesticides for use. For example, employees should always:

  • Read the label and/or MSDS before mixing chemicals.
  • Don proper protective equipment, including coveralls, gloves, boots, goggles, hat, and respirator if required.
  • Mix pesticides in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors.
  • Follow instructions for mixing on the label, measuring carefully and using only the amount specified on the label.
  • Keep mixing containers below eye level to prevent splash-ups.
  • If pesticides splash or spill on skin or clothing, remove contaminated clothes immediately and wash thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Clean up any spills promptly, following instructions on the label or MSDS.

Review the rules for safe application. Of course, workers also need to take precautions when applying pesticides. For example, they need to:

  • Inspect equipment before use to make sure it is in good condition, checking for loose connections, leaking hoses, dirty filters, or plugged or worn nozzles.
  • Make sure there are no people or animals in the area or downwind of application areas.
  • Apply only the amount specified on the label at the recommended rate.
  • Make sure pesticides don't contaminate ponds, streams, or other bodies of water.
  • Use precautions to prevent contamination.

Teach them how to avoid contamination. To prevent personal contamination, employees who work with pesticides should always follow these basic precautions:

  • Read labels and MSDSs before using any pesticide.
  • Wear required PPE and protective clothing.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth with contaminated hands.
  • Wash thoroughly before eating, drinking, chewing gum, smoking, or using the toilet.
  • Wash immediately in the event of direct skin exposure to pesticide.
  • Shower after work and put on clean clothes.
  • Wash work clothes separately from other laundry.
  • Get medical attention if pesticides are inhaled or swallowed.

And don't forget about safe storage. Pesticides should be stored in a labeled container--preferably the original container. Containers should be tightly sealed and checked regularly for leaks or deterioration. Storage areas should be marked with pesticide warning signs. And pesticides should be protected from temperature extremes.

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