EPA Revises Worker Protection Standard
Starting in 2017, the health of greenhouse, plant nursery, urban farm, and other workers will be better protected. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised the 1992 Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) with elements designed to reduce the risk of illness or injury from unsafe pesticide exposure. Employers must comply with most of the new requirements starting January 2, 2017 and certain other requirements starting January 2, 2018.
Exposure to pesticides is associated with a number of illnesses and injuries such as nausea, vomiting, neurological disorders, and cancer, just to name a few. This is not only bad for a worker’s health and wallet, but it’s bad for your horticulture business, too. These health risks can increase worker absenteeism, reduce productivity, and add to your costs. The revised WPS aims to reduce preventable illnesses relating to pesticides through stricter regulations.
Who Needs to Comply with the Worker Protection Standard?
Employers can be subject to significant civil and criminal penalties if WPS requirements are not met. This affects establishments that grow and harvest commercial plants in greenhouses and nurseries, fruits and vegetables on farms, or timber and trees in forests and nurseries.
Employers of researchers who help grow and harvest plants and employers of commercial pesticide handling establishments are also required to meet WPS regulations.
Learn more from EPA on which employers are affected by WPS and exceptions here.
Which Employees are Protected by the Worker Protection Standard?
The WPS protects pesticide handlers and agricultural workers. EPA defines pesticide handlers as compensated workers who:
- mix, load, or apply agricultural pesticides;
- clean or repair pesticide application equipment; or
- assist with the application of pesticides
EPA defines agricultural workers as “those who perform tasks related to growing and harvesting plants on farms or in greenhouses, nurseries or forests.” This includes compensated workers that perform activities directly related to agricultural plant production, including repotting and watering plants.
What Changes Were Made to the Worker Protection Standard?
EPA made a number of changes in 2015 to the existing Worker Protection Standard. These revisions improve safety measures, training, and access to information. Some of the major changes include:
- Individuals under the age of 18 can no longer handle pesticides or perform early-entry work during a restricted-entry interval (REI) (effective January 2, 2017)
- Pesticide handlers must complete medical evaluations, annual fit testings, and annual training prior to using a respirator; a record of these completed activities must be saved for two years (effective January 2, 2017)
- Eye flush water must be accessible at mixing/loading sites for pesticide handlers required to use eye protection (effective January 2, 2017)
- Warning signs must be posted for outdoor production areas if the REI is greater than 48 hours (effective January 2, 2017)
- Mandatory training on required protections must be provided to workers and handlers annually (effective January 2, 2017)
- “Enclosed space production” replaced the term “greenhouse” to include greenhouses, mushroom houses, grow houses, hoop houses, and high tunnels in its definition
- And more
How to Protect Your Horticulture Business from Financial Loss
To protect your horticulture business from paying penalties, it’s important to follow requirements specified in the Worker Protection Standard. Standardize procedures for your employees and provide additional training if needed. Each worker should be trained in recognizing hazards, using equipment and chemicals properly, and following the required safety procedures. Enforcing safety not only prevents violations and worker injuries, it could help lower your insurance premium, too.
If an injury or illness does occur from pesticide exposure or other cause, make sure you have comprehensive workers’ compensation insurance coverage. This covers medical costs, foregone wages, and other related costs that can be financially devastating for your business. With this, your employees can focus on restoring their health and you can continue growing your business.
Find insurance coverage for your horticulture business. NIP Group’s GrowPro insurance program includes workers’ compensation and other important coverages that can be custom-tailored to your operational and financial needs. For information on insurance coverage specific to your needs, visit nipgroup.com/programs/growpro or contact your broker.
NIP Programs develops and manages business insurance programs for industries with specialized insurance and risk management needs.