Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

EPA Revises the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard

Posted by Jon Elliott on Wed, Nov 25, 2015

Fruit_pickers.jpgThe US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers a Worker Protection Standard (WPS) designed to protect workers exposed to agricultural pesticides. WPS is patterned after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA's) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) for workers in most other industrial and commercial settings. EPA adopted the WPS in 1992, and just adopted its first revisions late in September 2015. Some of these changes incorporate revisions to HCS adopted by OSHA in 2012 (see here), while others catch up on two decades of industrial hygiene and worker safety practices. The revisions will appear in the Federal Register (probably in November) and become effective 60 days later. Compliance deadlines extend for up to 2 years for the various changes.

What Does WPS Require Now?

I summarized longstanding WPS requirements when I blogged last year about EPA’s proposed revisions (click here ). To further summarize my summary, WPS requires employers whose employees work with or around pesticides to provide the following:

  • Pesticide safety training

  • Labeling information

  • Specific information including pesticide-specific training within 5 days after beginning work (“grace period”), supplementing immediate emergency information and a pesticide safety poster

  • Requirements to keep workers out of areas being treated with pesticides, within nurseries and greenhouses (“buffer”)

  • Requirements to keep workers out of areas during a restricted-entry interval (REI) set for each pesticide

  • Protect early-entry workers doing permitted tasks in pesticide-treated areas during an REI, including special instructions and personal protective equipment (PPE)

  • Required warning to nearby workers about pesticide-treated areas (oral and/or warning signs, depending on the chemical)

  • Monitor handlers using highly toxic pesticides, at least every 2 hours

  • Provide required PPE to handlers (e.g., clothing, respirators)

  • Provide decontamination supplies

  • Provide for emergency assistance.

Some requirements apply on behalf of all agricultural workers who may be exposed, plus additional requirements for pesticide handlers who work with regulated pesticides.

What Changes is EPA Adopting?

EPA has adopted a wide variety of revisions, including provisions that have changed significantly from last year’s proposal. Revisions include:

  • Training (compliance deadline delayed for 2 years):

    • Expand topics covered for workers (from 11 items to 23) and for handlers (from 11 items to 36).

    • Eliminate pre-training grace period (i.e., train before work begins), and expand information required immediately.

    • Increase mandatory trainings from once every five years to annual.

    • Expand trainer qualification requirements (handlers no longer automatically eligible to train).

    • Require training documentation record keeping, for 2 years.

  • Hazard Communication

    • Provide safety data sheet (SDS) and application information for each pesticide used, at a central location at the establishment, beginning within 24 hours after application and before workers re-enter and continuing for 30 days after REI.

    • Retain SDS and application information for 2 years.

    • Post signs around treated areas if REI longer than 48 hours for outdoor applications or 4 hours for enclosed space applications (e.g., greenhouses).

    • Expand required information exchange between agricultural employer and handler employer.

  • Minimum age – establishes first-ever minimum age requirement: prohibits pesticide handling by children under 18.

  • Physical protections

    • Entry restrictions - add no-entry buffer areas surrounding pesticide-treated farms, forests and nurseries (up to 100 feet depending on chemical).

    • Suspension requirement – add requirement that handler suspend application if a worker or other person is in the application exclusion zone (up to 100 feet) around application equipment.

    • Clarifies PPE requirements and narrows exceptions.

    • Clarifies requirements for decontamination equipment and water.

    • Adopts OSHA standard for respirators (including fit test, medical evaluation, and training).

The revised standard continues exemptions for family farms, including age restrictions, and expands definition of family members.

Self-Assessment Checklist

Do any of my organization’s employees handle pesticides in agricultural workplaces?

  • Does the organization comply with EPA’s WPS (or a comparable state requirement that is at least as protective)?

  • Does the organization already provide any additional information, training, and/or protective measures?

  • Is the organization prepared to comply with the revised WPS?

Where Can I go For More Information?

• EPA's webpage for the revised WPS (includes cross-walk with current WPS) 

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. These include:

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About the Author Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 12 existing products, including Environmental Compliance: A Simplified National Guide and The Complete Guide to Environmental Law.

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:


photo credit: Working the Field, Oxnard California via photopin (license)

Tags: Employer Best Practices, Health & Safety, Employee Rights, Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA