Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team
As planting season approaches, it’ll soon be time for workers to spray your fields and crops to keep insects and fungus at bay. The question that farm owners like you have to ask is: Are they doing it safely? Herbicides, insecticides and fungicides all pose health risks that must be taken seriously.
Exposure risks include ingesting, inhaling or absorbing insecticide through the skin. When working with these dangerous compounds, protection equipment and clothing must be used to ensure worker safety.
We’ve put together these pesticide safety tips for farmers because the impact on human and livestock health can be so significant. When insecticide is mishandled, stored or disposed of incorrectly, your operation could suffer serious consequences. Take a look at these safety tips to make sure your business is working safely with pesticides.
Having an emergency plan of action in place is an important part of promoting workplace safety. Add a few pages to your action plan and build out a response for pesticide-related emergencies:
Get certified. Most states require certified, trained and authorized supervision for the application of pesticides and herbicides. Learn about your state’s requirements and build a training plan that conforms to those laws. Have all workers involved in the preparing, application, storage and disposal of these dangerous chemicals undergo the required educational and certification programs.
Train according to your implements. After getting certified, employees should be trained to safely work with pesticides on your specific equipment. Training workers on correctly and safely operating farm implements is very important, because it’s during the application of the pesticide where exposure risks are very high.
Invite first responders to train with employees. Walk through a few common exposure and spill scenarios that will require first responders on site and have all parties work together to train and review safety protocols. Discuss proper fitting and use of personal protection equipment (PPE). Document the procedures that you’ve developed and post copies in your break room. Deliver a set to your first responders as well so they can train off site.
Know your re-entry interval. Also known as the re-entry time, the pesticide label or the materials safety data sheet (MSDS) will contain details on the minimum amount of time that must pass before it’s safe for humans to access sprayed areas without wearing PPE. This time varies among products and exposure risks are real until that time threshold has expired.
Thoroughly clean PPE and clothing after use. Wash and rinse PPE and exposed protective clothing immediately after use. Have a dedicated washing machine and dryer for cleaning protective clothes. Do this to prevent pesticides from contaminating your family’s laundry. Store these clothes after they’re washed with your PPE.
Avoid groundwater contamination by air-gapping. When filling tanks, avoid pesticide backflow into underground wells by using air-gapped hoses. If a worker leaves a hose submerged in a mixing tank, there's a risk of contaminating groundwater. This occurs when the well’s pump is turned off and gravity then syphons the pesticide from the tank back into the well. Air-gapping can protect your water table from being poisoned.
Manage Your Pesticides Carefully
Exposure problems can exist right where the pesticide is stored. Here are some common-sense tips to keep workers safe when storing pesticides:
Inspect storage area for leaks frequently. Over the winter, corrosion or leaks can occur as these chemicals expand and contract with changing temperatures. Look at the containers carefully for signs of leaking.
Isolate your pesticides. By storing them in their own locked cabinet, in a dedicated room or even a dedicated building, you can reduce the likelihood of worker accidents and exposure. Use “Pesticide Storage” signs to warn workers.
Keep pesticides away from livestock and feed. Avoid accidental exposure or livestock poisoning by requiring that these dangerous chemicals not be allowed anywhere near animals or their feed. Trace amounts of residue are enough to cause lasting harm and may be fatal in higher doses.
Store compounds in their original containers. These chemicals are shipped with warning labels — and other information workers may need — directly on their original container. In the event of an emergency, these labels can mean the difference between life and death. Switching containers prevents workers from access to key instructions and first-aid details.
The majority of pesticide-related worker exposure incidents occur during the handling and applying of these chemicals. Review these pesticide handling safety tips with your staff to be sure everyone understands how to work safely:
Print out the MSDS. Get online and print a copy of each product’s MSDS used on your farm and keep them in a three-ring binder. Place it in a break room or other common area. Inform your staff of its location and store a duplicate where the insecticide is stored.
Education is key. Job one for any worker is to get informed on what they’re handling, and figure out what types of PPE will be required. Chemical details can be reviewed on the container’s label or on the MSDS.
Follow all label recommendations. From mixing instructions to details on clean up, be sure your workers are able to understand and do as the label says. Have workers wear protective clothing like long sleeves and pants — they need to be outfitted with PPE that completely protects them. Face shields, gloves, protective outer layers and appropriate respirators should be readily available to workers.
Always pour and mix away from the face. When combining these chemicals with water or other solvents, have workers mix on the floor. Keep chemicals at arm’s length to help prevent exposure to splashing.
Work upwind. Train employees to stand upwind so that fumes, powders or mists are carried away from them when handling pesticides.
Work in well-ventilated areas only. Before mixing them together, have employees transport pesticides to exterior areas or in well-ventilated enclosed areas.
Measure carefully, use frugally. Be sure your workers know how to measure and mix pesticides. Avoid storage and contamination issues by instructing them to mix only as much as they’ll need to get the job done.
Rinse containers before disposal. Follow the specifications on the container for disposal instructions.
Getting pesticides from their stored containers, measured and diluted, and then out onto the field is no easy task. But by thinking ahead and planning for problems, you can be ready to respond quickly and safely if something should happen.
Another important way to protect your farm is by insuring it carefully. Reach out to your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) and review your coverage today. They’ll help you select coverage that best suits your operation and you’ll have the protection for everything you’ve worked so hard for.