FAQ regarding the New Worker Protection Standard – Part 1

As of January 2018, three requirements were added to the Worker Protection Standard.

As of Jan. 2, 2018, growers need to be compliant with the new three additional requirements for the updated Worker Protection Standard (WPS). The new requirements have generated a substantial number of questions from all types of agricultural businesses. Michigan State University Extension will answer some of the most common questions about the updated WPS in this article and will cover the new respirator requirements in Part 2.

What is the EPA Worker Protection Standard?

The WPS is designed to reduce the risk of poisoning and injury or accidents among pesticide handlers and workers in agriculture. The new WPS standard requires mandatory annual training for both agricultural workers and handlers and there is no grace period. All employees participating in worker or handler tasks (see brief definition below) must receive the appropriate training prior to starting work. Employers must keep records of these trainings.

As a part of WPS, employers are required to provide employees that will need to wear a respirator as a part of their job:

  • A respiratory medical evaluation.
  • Provide respirator fit-testing services free of charge at a minimum on an annual basis, or more frequently if necessitated due to physical changes (e.g., weight gain/loss, dental work, etc.).
  • Training on proper use, care, maintenance and storage of the assigned respirator.

Why does the WPS exist?

According to the EPA WPS website, there are 1,800 to 3,000 preventable occupational incidents involving pesticide exposures occur in the U.S. each year at agricultural operations covered by the WPS. The intent behind the WPS is to minimize or eliminate worker overexposures to pesticides, therefore reducing the likelihood of injury and illness.

Is the WPS a federal or state mandate?

The WPS is a federal mandate that is enforced at the state level.

What changed with WPS in January 2018?

As of Jan. 2, 2018 there were three requirements added to the WPS:

  1. Pesticide safety training must cover the expanded content.
  2. Pesticide safety information (posters) must meet the revised standards.
  3. Handlers must suspend applications if workers or bystanders are in the application exclusion zone.

Who is covered by the WPS?

The WPS is in place to protect both agricultural workers and handlers, as well as potential bystanders, from pesticide exposure.

What is the difference between a worker and handler with regards to WPS?

Both agricultural workers and handlers need to be trained according to the WPS. The WPS has specific definitions for workers and handlers; workers are those who perform agricultural tasks directly related to the production of agricultural plants (weeding, watering, planting etc.) while handlers are those who do more direct tasks with pesticides such as: mix, load and apply pesticides; work on pesticide application equipment; or act as a flagger, etc. Pesticide handlers and early-entry workers must be at least 18 years old.

Who enforces the WPS?

The individual state agricultural agencies enforce the WPS. For example, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) employs pesticide inspectors who can aid growers in developing plans to be compliant with the WPS.  

What does a MDARD WPS inspection entail?

An MDARD WPS pesticide inspection will involve an inspector’s visit to your farm to assess current compliance with the WPS. The visit and feedback from the inspection is aimed at helping the producer identify areas where improvement is needed, and provides an opportunity to discuss correcting missing elements of the WPS. MDARD is interested in providing compliance assistance; however, if a situation is deemed negligent, the inspection will include compliance assistance but may also result in assessed penalties.

What are the updated posters that employers need? Are the posters free or for sale?

You can download or buy updated posters that are compliant with the new WPS on the Pesticide Educational Resources Collaborative (PERC) website.

You can also purchase a set of posters along with the Michigan Farm Bureau Agriculture Labor and Safety Services (ALSS) Newsletter (price: $135.99) or the Michigan Farm Bureau/Varnum Manual subscription, which are available separately at $49.95 plus shipping and handling.

Check out Part 2 of this article to learn about the new respirator requirements for the updated WPS as well as these other MSU Extension articles:

Thank you to Julie Yocum and Mike Hansen, Michigan Department of Agricultural and Rural Development, for their reviews.

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