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Does it bug you to work around pesticides? Keep yourself safe

Like all of California's agricultural workers, you probably work around pesticides. You probably already know that you could experience serious illness and even death through exposure to them. The Environmental Protection Agency improved its Agricultural Worker Protection Standard for workers like you in Nov. 2015.

Those new protections took effect in Jan. 2017, except for the following three, which take effect in Jan. 2018:

  • Applications must cease when others are in the zone
  • Safety training must cover new content
  • Safety posters must reflect revised standards

The implementation of these new protections came about because exposure to pesticides causes health consequences of varying degrees for up to 3,000 agricultural workers each year. The EPA designed the new protections to lower that number.

How do the revisions to the WPS protect me?

The EPA believes the revisions will provide you with the following enhanced protections:

  • Keep you away from areas during application of pesticides
  • Keep you away from the chemicals and equipment used
  • Keep you out of areas during the restricted-entry interval period
  • Provide you with personal protection equipment when entering restricted areas early
  • Give you instructions regarding being in restricted areas

If your job requires you to use pesticides (a handler), the following revised standards apply to you:

  • Monitor you during and after use of pesticides
  • Provide you the appropriate personal protection equipment
  • Provide you with a respirator, if needed
  • Provide you with respirator training

Your employer should also conduct a medical evaluation and fit test to determine whether your exposure threatens your health.

Is my employer supposed to provide me with certain information?

Yes. You have the right to remain informed and to receive training relating to the use and exposure to pesticides. The revisions to the WPS require the following from your employer:

  • Adequate training for both workers and handlers
  • Access to information on pesticides and location of treated areas
  • Access to pesticide safety data sheets
  • Access to posters providing pesticide safety information
  • Access to pesticide labels for early entry workers and handlers

A free exchange of information must also occur between employers who handle the application of pesticides and agricultural employers to keep everyone on the same page and well informed.

What if I am exposed despite these precautions?

The EPA understands that accidents happen and requires employers to make the following preparations and have them available at a moment's notice:

  • Decontamination supplies
  • Keep transportation available to take an exposed worker to a medical facility

Your employer should also ensure that information regarding the pesticides used at the time of your exposure gets to the medical personnel treating you.

Can I file a workers' compensation claim if exposed?

Yes. Your medical expenses and lost wages associated with your exposure and subsequent recovery may be covered by workers' compensation benefits. Depending on the severity of your exposure and your prognosis, you may also receive other benefits.

The last thing you need to deal with while you recover from exposure to a pesticide is the bureaucracy surrounding the receipt of your benefits. You may benefit from enlisting the help of a legal advocate to guide and assist you throughout the process, which could help ensure that you receive all of the benefits to which you may be entitled.

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