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Pesticide Worker Safety

Protecting the Safety of our Farmworkers


By: Alexandra Dunn, Assistant Administrator
Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Today marks the beginning of National Farmworker Awareness Week. We depend on over 2 million agricultural workers in the U.S. to feed families around the world.

No farmworker should have to suffer harm caused by pesticide exposure. A serious farmworker injury changes lives forever, for families, friends and entire communities. The health and welfare of our farmworkers is also essential to our abundant and healthful food supply. When farmworkers get sick or injured because of preventable pesticide exposure, they can miss work, lose wages and incur expensive medical bills.

One of EPA’s goals is to ensure that farmworkers are protected from workplace hazards. We evaluate every pesticide to identify the risks to workers applying the pesticide. We also analyze data to assess risks to people who re-enter areas that have been treated with pesticides. We use monitoring data from exposure studies to determine how much pesticide people may be exposed to after application and how long workers must wait before reentering a treated area.

When we identify a risk concern for farmworkers, we require risk management measures — such as requiring personal protective equipment or requiring people to wait longer before re-entering treated fields.

EPA encourages the use of modifications such as special packaging designed to reduce exposure to workers who mix and load pesticide products.

Certain pesticides are designated as “Restricted Use Pesticides,” which means that they can only be applied by trained and certified applicators or someone under the direct supervision of a certified applicator. When a pesticide is particularly risky, EPA may require that only specially trained certified applicators can handle or apply it. Fumigants, for example, are gases that can move into the air around the application site and harm people nearby, making special training especially important. 

Regulations like EPA’s Worker Protection Standard are critical to the protection of farmworkers. The 2015 standard is aimed at informing workers about pesticide safety, providing protection from potential exposure to pesticides, and mitigating exposure. In 2017, EPA’s Certification and Training of Pesticide Applicators regulation finalized stronger standards for people who apply restricted-use pesticides, thereby reducing the likelihood of harm from the misapplication of toxic pesticides. EPA has awarded cooperative agreement funds to help carry out both regulations.

I encourage you to take a moment during National Farmworker Awareness Week, and throughout the year, to recognize the efforts of our farm workers and their numerous contributions to society.