A worker feels an itch on their face and instantly scratches it. Their eyes water up after yawning and they immediately rub them. They feel sweat on the face and wipe it off—maybe even with the sleeve of a shirt. Or, they grab something to eat with their hand or reach into their pocket for gum. These are activities many of us do every day, and we probably don’t think about it. But, what if your employees are working in an agricultural field, around plants and produce that may have pesticide residue?  

They could be rubbing poisonous pesticides on their skin and/or eyes or ingesting them.

In the agriculture industry, field workers—including those who work in indoor nurseries—come in contact with pesticides every day. Pesticides can get it on the skin, in the eyes, and on clothes. Workers are also exposed to pesticides through airborne residue and contaminated irrigation water.

Established in 1992, the Agriculture Worker Protection Standard (WPS)―the EPA federal standard―addresses these risks and how to reduce them. In California, fieldworker pesticide safety is governed by California Department of Pesticides. Under the state’s fieldworker training regulation, employers shall assure that each employee assigned to work in a treated field has been trained within the last 12 months before beginning work in the treated field.   

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 is 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 is 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 is 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 the skin. Employees should remember to wash their clothing after use each day.

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.