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. They can get it on the skin, in their eyes, and on their clothes. Workers are also exposed to pesticides through airborne residue and contaminated irrigation water.

Established in 1992, the Agriculture Worker Protection Standard (WPS) addresses these risks and how to reduce them. 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 about pesticide exposure

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. Without proper precautions, pesticides can easily get on an employee’s clothes and skin if proper precautions are not taken.
  • Chemigation: Pesticide residue found in irrigation water. Never drink or wash in irrigation water.
  • Restricted Entry Interval sign which includes the type of pesticide, date it was applied, and length of time access is restricted
    Drift: Airborne residue that moves into the work area either by a shift in the wind. It can also happen if someone sprays a pesticide in the wrong direction. Employees can breathe in the residue without the right precautions.

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. It's to protect your employees from exposure to 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 near pesticides

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 protective gear after use and properly dispose of anything that becomes heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals.

Employees also need 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.