Pesticide Exposure: Are Your Workers Protected?

Along with the dangers of injuries from heavy machinery and hours of working in the sun, agricultural workers risk health problems caused by exposure to chemicals like pesticides. Those workers, as opposed to handlers, require specific chemical protections. In this post, we’ll touch on four of the main types of PPE that work best in reducing risk for workers.

Handlers and Workers: Defining the Difference

Pesticide exposure occurs primarily among two types of agricultural employees OSHA classifies as handlers and workers. Handlers load and mix pesticides, and workers apply them to the crops or orchards. Workers also clean and repair the equipment and cultivate and harvest the fruit or vegetables, allowing further exposure.

According to a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report, agricultural workers and handlers are at a much higher risk of ill health effects because of their direct contact with commonly used pesticides.

Check with OSHA and EPA for protection standards

Even though agricultural work will always involve an element of risk, there are ways employers can help minimize it. Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) designed for varying levels of exposure to pesticides is critical and often required.

OSHA regulates the PPE requirements and recommendations of farm and orchard employers to provide workers with the correct PPE as stated on the pesticide label. And the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the use of pesticides with the Worker Protection Standards (WPS).

Employers should check with both organizations on how to adequately protect workers. It’s essential to recognize that PPE requirements may be different for different types of pesticides. However, in general, to protect workers’ skin, eyes, and lungs when exposed to agricultural chemicals, employers should provide the following chemical resistant products:

  1. Disposable coveralls
  2. Safety goggles
  3. Rubber gloves
  4. Respirator masks

Popular Chemical PPE Options

When PPE is critical, look for trusted material and the proper coverage to ensure your workers stay safe. Below is a list of essential chemical PPE products that meet those standards and might be required on your farm or orchard.

Disposable Coveralls

To reduce pesticide exposure to the skin, workers should wear disposable coveralls. When worn correctly, they can provide the needed protection for most conditions.

Chemically resistant overalls should leave no areas exposed. The PermaGard™ Coverall – Attached Hood and Boots covers the entire body leaving only the hands and face free.

This full-body suit is ideal for agricultural workers because it’s made from a durable, breathable material. It’s also made to be disposed of after use, limiting the likelihood of cross-contamination.

The raglan cut design provided a diagonal seam extending from the underarm to the collarbone resulting in a one-piece sleeve that ends at the collar. With one continuous piece of fabric, the wearer is further protected with a better fit.

It provides protection workers need against contaminants, light liquid splashes, and particles by keeping non-hazardous particulates and liquids out while allowing moisture inside to dissipate.

It features:

  • Comfortable fit for extended wear
  • Serged seams and raglan cut*
  • Elastic waist, cuffs, and ankles
  • Zipper front closure with storm-fly

Chemically Resistant Gloves

Chemically resistant gloves should extend past the wrists for better protection. Certain types of material will only be suited for specific chemicals. It’s important to check the manufacturers’ instructions.

There are three key components for choosing the right chemical glove for farm and orchard work:

  • Understanding the chemical properties
  • Identifying potential hazards
  • Determining contact duration

Nitrile is a perfect solution for agricultural workers who don’t work directly with pesticides. It is sometimes also known as synthetic rubber. Additional abrasion resistance offers a non-slip grip and makes it a good choice for general-purpose use.

The industrial unsupported Green Nitrile Gloves have a 15 mil thickness with a 13” length and extended straight cuff. Alternatively, the 2960C model is 13 inch length, 15 mil with no lining. These gloves also provide:

  • Solvent resistance
  • Anti-slip pattern for excellent grip in wet or dry conditions
  • Flock lined for increased comfort and ease of donning
  • Bacteriostatic, and fungistatic additives
  • FDA conformance for repeated use with food

Respirator Mask

The right respirator mask* helps protect a worker’s lungs and throat from vapors and fumes. Dust also can cause lung irritation, which means a dust mask is vital during agricultural work that exposes the worker to high levels of particulate matter, like during harvesting or picking crops.

The Duramask™ NIOSH N95 particulate respirator masks are available without valve or with valve an exhalation valve and have:

  • NIOSH N95 approval
  • Compliance with 42 CFR Part 84
  • TB exposure control that meets CDC guidelines
  • Adjustable aluminum nose piece
  • Comfortable nose foam
  • Latex-free double head strap

*A cartridge respirator or air-fed mask may be required for workers or handlers that are directly exposed to pesticides.

Safety Goggles

Safety goggles are often needed for those working around pesticides. A snug fit helps prevent any possible irritants from getting into the eyes.

The INOX™ Pulsar Safety Goggles pass the D3 Droplet and Splash Test, providing the needed protection for most farmworkers. With top-notch indirect ventilation for breathability and a soft PVC frame and adjustable head strap, they are goggles with optimal fit and comfort. They also provide:

  • Single-piece, scratch-resistant polycarbonate lens
  • Rx inner frame for prescription inserts
  • Scratch-resistant lenses protect from 99% of UV rays
  • Meets or exceeds ANSI Z87.1-2010 high impact requirements
  • Compliant with ANSI Z87.1-2020 D3 droplet and splash protection

Training and Instructions are Critical

The above protections are a good start. But, it’s not enough to supply employees with PPE unless they know how to use, store, and evaluate it. Providing regular training to workers exposed to agricultural chemicals is an essential step for employers in keeping their workers safe.

The WPS offers occupational protections to over 2 million agricultural workers and pesticide handlers working at the over 600,000 agricultural establishments in the US. EPA-approved training materials for national use are available on the WPS Materials webpage.

Minimizing Risk: An Ongoing Commitment

Even with OSHA, the EPA, and an employers’ best intentions, the agriculture industry can be an unquestionably hazardous environment.

Still, it is possible to minimize the risks and help prevent most injuries. An ongoing commitment to training, care, and the best PPE for the task means all workers will feel supported and protected.

Download our guide, Chemical Resistant Gloves 101 and get a complete chemical resistant material performance chart along with lots of other valuable information. You can also fill out our request a sample form to try one of the products for yourself or contact us for more information.