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Workers Protection Standard (WPS): Protections for Farm Workers

Fruits and vegetables are top items on many weekly shopping lists. We have been told to wash the apples, peaches, and broccoli we buy before we eat them to protect ourselves from mistakenly ingesting pesticides. But what about the people who grow those fruits and vegetables for us, or pick them and ship them to us? How can they be protected from pesticides?

In recognition of this concern, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for the benefit of agricultural workers and other pesticide handlers. If you run an agricultural business or one that uses a significant amount of pesticides, you will need to learn about and comply with WPS regulations.

Who is covered by the WPS?

The WPS covers employees on farms or in forests, nurseries, and greenhouses. The EPA estimates that there are over 3.5 million people in the United States who work with pesticides at over 560,000 workplaces.

Two different types of employees are covered:

  • Pesticide handlers: Anyone who mixes, loads, or applies agricultural pesticides, cleans or repairs application equipment, or assists in any other way with the application of pesticides
  • Agricultural workers: Anyone who performs job tasks relating to the cultivation and harvesting of plants on farms or in greenhouses, nurseries, or forests. These workers include anyone employed for any type of compensation (salaried, hourly, piecemeal, or self-employed) doing tasks such as carrying nursery stock, repotting plants, watering plants, or otherwise engaging in the production of agricultural plants.

In general, workers do not include employees who work solely in the office, truck drivers, mechanics, or other individuals not engaged in worker activities. In some specific cases, the requirements do apply to all employees or to individuals who are not either typical handlers or workers, such as the person responsible for cleaning pesticide-contaminated personal protective equipment.

In what situations does the WPS apply?

The WPS generally applies in all situations in which pesticides are used in connection with agriculture on a farm or in forests, nurseries, and greenhouses, EXCEPT in the following notable circumstances:

  • Mosquito abatement.
  • Mediterranean fruit fly eradication.
  • Similar wide-area public pest control programs sponsored by governmental entitles.
  • Control of vertebrate pests, such as mice and rats.
  • Use of pesticides on already harvested portions of agricultural plants or on harvested timber.
  • For research uses of unregistered pesticides.

What are the worker protections under the WPS?

The WPS contains provisions designed to accomplish the goal of reducing workplace exposure to pesticides and increasing workplace safety. These protections include:

  • A prohibition on the application of pesticides in a manner that will expose workers or other individuals. Workers are not allowed to be in areas when pesticides are being sprayed or applied.
  • The creation of restricted-entry intervals that must be printed on all agricultural plant pesticide product labels. The intervals establish time periods in which workers are excluded from entering the pesticide-treated area. (Example: A restricted-entry interval for a particular pesticide may provide that workers are prohibited from entering the area for two days after the pesticide is used).
  • The required supply and maintenance of personal protective equipment for pesticide handlers and workers who are granted early-entry to areas where a pesticide has been used.
  • The required notification of workers about the location of treated areas so that they may take steps to avoid inadvertent exposure.
  • The required ample supply of decontamination products, such as water, soap, and towels to be used by handlers and workers for both routine washing and emergency decontamination.
  • The required provision of transportation to medical care facilities of workers or handlers who may have been poisoned or injured by pesticide exposure. This provision also requires that truthful information be provided to medical providers about the pesticide to which the individual was exposed.
  • Required pesticide safety training and display of safety posters. Signs and posters must be in English and either Spanish or another language in which the handlers and workers are literate.
  • Allowed access to labeling and site-specific information for both handlers and workers. There must also be a central posting of all recent pesticide applications.

The WPS is not the only way in which the EPA is watching out for the health and safety of workers exposed to pesticides (see OSHA and Workplace Safety). The EPA has also undertaken an initiative, called the Pesticides and National Strategies for Health Care Providers, in an aim to increase education and treatment effectiveness in the area of pesticide-related health.

Get legal Help Complying with the Workers Protection Standard

One of the main duties carried out by business attorneys is legal compliance, typically with respect to employment laws but also for environmental and other regulations. If you need help understanding the law and coming into compliance, consider meeting with a business and commercial law attorney with compliance experience.

See the Business Laws and Regulations section for related articles.

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