STEVENS POINT — Keeping farm workers and pesticide handlers safe should be a priority for owner-operators. Jane Larson, of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Worker Protection Standards program, said worker safety is the purpose of WPS and discussed the changes to the program in 2018 at a Jan. 4 Agriculture Connection Safety Seminar.
“WPS has been around since the 1990s and has been through two major revisions. The last one was in 2015 so a lot of those things that were changed came into play this past year,” Larson said.
The purpose of WPS is to keep the workers who are doing the hand labor and who are handling and applying pesticides on the farm safe. This includes people who are in the fields, weeding, planting, watering and those types of things as well as who are working around the pesticides, either through direct application or doing the mixing, loading or cleaning of the equipment.
Larson said not all farms are required to use WPS, but users should look to see if there is an agricultural use requirement on the label of the pesticide products being used, which brings WPS into play.
“Over the years, I have found some folks who say they don’t need to follow WPS because they don’t use the really bad stuff or are organic farmers and don’t have to follow it. The agricultural use requirements are on practically every pesticide label in relation to crops,” Larson said.
One exception with the requirements is if farm employees are immediate family of the owner-operator, some aspects of WPS do not apply. Exemptions include not being required to do training, having a central display and being exempt from the minimum age of pesticide applicators.
“With this new regulation that took place in 2017, pesticide handlers have to be at least 18 years of age, however, if they are immediate family members, that doesn’t apply,” Larson said.
Although there are some exemptions, family members still need to follow the product label, use personal protection equipment and stay out of spray areas.
Larson said WPS can be looked at as a three-legged stool, the legs being information, prevention and mitigation.
“Information is so the workers and handlers understand what the risks are; protection is the steps taken to prevent exposure; and mitigation is should there be any kind of exposure that takes place, what can we do to lessen the effects of that,” she said.
Changes in the information component that took effect in 2017 or will come into effect in 2018 include requiring training of workers every year instead of the former requirement of every five years, having safety data sheets, using the new safety poster with the updated information and keeping all pesticide application information for at least two years. There also was the introduction of the minimum applicator and handling age and a change in the eye wash requirements.
“Under the old rule (eye wash) was just a recommended amount. Now under the new revision, you need to provide 6 gallons of water so someone can do an emergency eye flush if needed,” Larson said.
Larson said with the changes, the department decided to help farmers come into compliance instead of hard enforcement right away.
“We took the approach of compliance assistance. When we went out to operations this past year, if people did not have some new regulations up to speed or were missing elements, the field staff pointed it out and gave the information needed to give the operators the opportunity to make those changes,” she said. “We are going to be doing the same thing for 2018 for some of the new requirements.”
Last year the department focused on inspecting non-food operations such as Christmas tree farms, but this year will focus on food operations like apple orchards. More information on WPS and its requirements can be found on DATCP’s website or on the Pesticide Education Resource Collaborative at http://www.pesticideresources.org.