Reviewing Worker Protection Standards ensures EPA complianceWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Intended to reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning and injury among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) in 1992. WPS applies to anyone who applies pesticides on farms, in greenhouses or nurseries or in a forest setting.
EPA’s Region 8 Headquarters office enforces policy compliance in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, and routine WPS inspections can be expected at any time.
“EPA does routinely visit this state, and they maintain a presence in Wyoming,” comments Wyoming Department of Agriculture Technical Services Manager Hank Uhden, adding that recent indicators strongly indicate that the state may be due for WPS inspections this year.
EPA inspections examine the practices of agricultural, handler and farm labor contractor employers and their employees to ensure they are in compliance with product-specific WPS requirements, as well as generic WPS requirements, such as safety information and training, decontamination and worker notification procedures.
According to WPS Agricultural Inspection Guidance, “The goals in conducting WPS agricultural inspections include monitoring employer compliance, documenting violations, addressing noncompliance and increasing handler and worker safety.”
“Producers need to make sure they really follow label instructions,” notes Uhden.
Wearing the proper personal protection equipment, informing employees about application and communicating with contract applicators can help ensure safe and correct measures in compliance with WPS.
“If a farmer hires a commercial applicator to go out and do the pesticide application, that farmer still needs to comply with WPS. They need to have the label, the product information, the material safety data sheet or safety data sheet and informed employees,” he says.
As an example to remind producers about WPS compliance, Uhden shares a story about a producer who was given a hefty fine of nearly $250,000 for missing safety information.
“The guy removed a piece of paper from the manual that was kept at a central location in the office, which kept it in compliance. He took it to train employees, and it never got returned back to the book,” he explains.
Uhden encourages producers to make sure proper signage is posted and that all employees follow instructions, such as staying out of fields when label directions indicate that people should avoid the area for a given period of time after application.
Uhden also emphasizes recent WPS changes, reminding producers that Jan. 1, 2017 marks the date all new standards will go into effect, and farmers need to be in compliance.
“WPS just went through a federal rewrite of the regulations. We are under some changes now, and next year the people under the worker standards will have to be in compliance,” he states.
In April of this year, Wyoming Department of Agriculture employees will receive customized training from the EPA Region 8 office to learn about how changes will affect Wyoming producers and how extensive training will need to be to ensure all producers are in compliance with new regulations.
“We are going to do a top-lead train-down to the applicator level, working with our county Extension through the University of Wyoming (UW) to cover the necessary material for applicator trainings,” he adds.
The Wyoming Department of Agriculture and UW will team up to provide regional training sessions throughout the state, with opportunities for private and commercial applicators to learn more about program changes.
“Times and dates for those events will be announced later. We are still in the infancy of trying to get that going,” he mentions.
Changes to WPS regulations will include expanded training requirements, new buffer zone descriptions, record-keeping mandates, changes to safety regulations and more.
“If anyone has any questions, they can call us. We will be more than happy to visit with them and make sure they are doing what they need to do to be in compliance, based on their operation and what they do,” states Uhden.