Changes to Worker Protection Standard include fit testing and more worker training

by | Apr 24, 2017

Robin Tutor-Marcom, from the N.C. AgroMedicine Institute at East Carolina University, is helping NCDA&CS pesticide inspectors understand the new respirator requirements and sharing outreach materials for the respiratory program that is now included in the revised Worker Protection Standard.

It’s been a few months since new revisions to federal rules to protect agricultural workers from pesticide exposure went into effect. Since then, inspectors with the Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division have been working to assist farmers, producers and businesses with meeting the new requirements. The changes are the first major revisions of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Worker Protection Standard since 1992.

“We received a couple of requests from greenhouses and farmers on helping to make sure they understood the new requirements,” said Patrick Farquhar, eastern district manager for the Pesticide Section. “We met with these businesses before the growing season to talk about what will be required of them. As the growing season continues, we plan to continue to work to help growers come into compliance.”

Hoffman Nursery in Rougemont requested a compliance inspection to review the WPS revisions in February. The nursery has 62 greenhouses and 50 employees. Inspectors reviewed changes that the nursery would need to make in record keeping and pesticide handling.

Two significant revisions to the Worker Protection Standard include annual safety training as well as medical evaluations and yearly fit testing for workers who wear a respirator. “Previously, training was on a five-year rotation, and workers just had to be verbally asked if they had been trained,” Farquhar said. “Now, growers must keep records of all trainings and maintain those records for two years.”

The new revisions also require all pesticide handlers — employees who mix, load, apply or otherwise assist with pesticide applications — and early-entry workers — employees who are trained and protected and enter a treated site before the re-entry interval has expired — to be at least 18 years old.

Pesticide inspectors met with Hoffman Nursery on Worker Protection Standard revisions.

Another significant change has been the new respirator requirements, which now include medical evaluations and annual fit testing. Applicators who wear the respirator must receive training on proper use of the respirator and maintain training records for two years. “Even growers and farmers that have been working the fields for years and are used to wearing a respirator aren’t used to having yearly fit test and medical evaluations. It is big change for growers to have this new requirement,” Farquhar said. “Many of the calls and questions we have gotten are about this revision.”

Seven pesticide inspectors across the state perform Worker Protection Standard inspections. Each inspector does about 60 per year. Growers are randomly chosen. For example, an inspector might see a sprayer in the field and stop to ask questions to see if the farm is in compliance. If a farm has had issues in the past, including investigations, warnings or complaints, it also might get inspected. WPS inspections are reported to the EPA. Inspectors also visit any establishment that produces, manufactures or repackages pesticides on a regular basis.

“Our inspectors will go to any nursery, greenhouse or farm and conduct a compliance inspection if requested,” Farquhar said. “It is a great opportunity to find out what you need to be doing to come into compliance without fear of being fined. It is a time to ask questions and let us show you areas that may need correcting.” Inspectors also work with growers to provide training materials and forms to help with record keeping.

Growers who are not in compliance may be issued a notice of non-compliance and the farm is given a certain number of days to comply. Workers and handlers cannot continue working until they receive approved WPS training. If the action is not corrected, an investigation could be initiated, resulting in a Notice of Warning or Notice of Violation. Issuance of a Notice of Violation could lead to civil penalties being assessed. “With these revisions being new, we really want to work with growers and help them get into compliance before we issue warnings or fines,” Farquhar said.

For more information or compliance assistance on pesticide safety and worker protection standards, go online to or call 919-733-3556.