Dr. Lee Townsend
Dept. of Entomology
University of Kentucky
The pesticide label provides handling precautions, minimal personal protective equipment (PPE), and other safety measures to minimize your exposure while handling pesticides. PPE comprises the clothing and devices you wear to protect your body from contact with pesticides. Wearing PPE can reduce exposure and lower the chances of pesticide injury, illness, or poisoning. Basic protective work clothing consists of: a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, closed toed shoes, and socks.
The EPA defines PPE as: coveralls, apron, gloves, footwear, headgear, eyewear, and respirators.
All pesticide applicators and handlers must understand the protections and limitations of PPE. Proper PPE selection, use, and care are essential. Although PPE may reduce your exposure to pesticides, it does not necessarily eliminate it.
It is important to take basic steps to reduce exposure when you handle pesticides or work in pesticide-treated areas. Remember to use common sense—no guidelines cover all situations.
A pesticide label lists the minimum PPE that an applicator, handler, and early-entry worker must wear. Wearing anything less is illegal and dangerous. All pesticide handlers (e.g., applicators, mixers and loaders, and flaggers) are responsible for following the pesticide label, including wearing PPE.
Some materials that are chemical resistant to this product are barrier laminate or butyl rubber or nitrile rubber or neoprene rubber or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or viton.
Applicators using spray equipment mounted on their backs must wear: Coveralls over long-sleeved shirt and long pants. Chemical-resistant footwear plus socks, and Chemical-resistant gloves such as barrier laminate or butyl rubber or nitrile rubber or neoprene rubber, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or viton.
Mixers, loaders, all other applicators, and other handlers must wear long-sleeved shirt and long pants, chemical-resistant gloves, such as barrier laminate or butyl rubber or nitrile rubber or neoprene rubber, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or viton, shoes plus socks, and chemical-resistant apron, when mixing/loading, cleaning up spills, cleaning equipment, or otherwise exposed to the concentrate.
Follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning/maintaining PPE. If no such instructions for washables exist , use detergent and hot water. Keep and wash PPE separately from other laundry. Discard clothing and other absorbent materials that have been drenched or heavily contaminated with this product’s concentrate. Do not reuse them.
PPE requirements are typically listed under the “Precautionary Statements” section of the pesticide label. If you work in or on a farm, forest, nursery, or greenhouse, also look for additional PPE requirements listed in the “Agricultural Use Requirements” box on the label. Always check to see if state regulations are more restrictive than label requirements. Some states have more restrictive safety regulations for pesticide applicators. When a state or local regulation is more restrictive than federal pesticide laws, it must be followed.
Under EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS; 40 CFR Part 170), agricultural employers are legally required to provide PPE that is in good working order. They also must train pesticide handlers on the proper use and maintenance of label-required PPE. PPE label requirements vary, depending upon the toxicity, formulation, dilution, and route of exposure of the pesticide product and activity. For example, a single label may have one set of PPE requirements for applicators and a different set for agricultural early entry workers going into areas during the restricted-entry interval. Even very low hazard pesticides require that a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, shoes, and socks be worn.
Consider all work situations where using PPE may be hazardous. Be careful around moving equipment with parts that can catch apron strings. Protective clothing can restrict evaporation of sweat, interfering with the body’s natural cooling system. This can cause heat-related illnesses, including heat stress (see Chapter 4, Pesticide Hazards and First Aid, for more information).
Different types of clothing, aprons, hats, boots, and gloves are not equally protective against all pesticides and under all conditions. For PPE to be protective, it must:
To protect your skin, your normal work clothing must cover most of your body. Depending on the product’s toxicity and use, coveralls, apron, hat, boots, and gloves may also be required. Protective clothing, gloves, and boots must provide a barrier while you are exposed to a pesticide. Labels may require waterproof gloves or boots. Additionally, chemical-resistant gloves, aprons, hats, boots, or suits are required on some labels. EPA defines “chemical resistant” as preventing any measurable amount of material from moving through (breaking through) the fabric or material. Things that can affect the extent of breakthrough are contact time, concentration, temperature, and the product itself. When selected correctly, protective clothing reduces the risk of dermal exposure but does not eliminate it.
Your work clothes provide a basic barrier to minimize pesticide contact with your skin. Select work clothes made of tightly woven fabrics to reduce pesticide penetration. Make sure they are free of holes and tears. Fasten the shirt collar completely to protect the lower part of your neck. Do not use these work clothes for anything other than handling pesticides. Store and launder fabric work clothing separately from all other clothing after each day’s use. See “Maintaining Clothing and Personal Protective Equipment” at the end of this chapter for details on cleaning and disposing of pesticide-soiled work clothes.
Some pesticide labels require coveralls (a second layer of clothing) over work clothes. They must be loose-fitting, one or two-piece garments that cover the entire body except head, hands, and feet. A coverall can be made of woven (like cotton or twill) or nonwoven fabrics. It must be durable so it does not rip, tear, or puncture easily. It should be either easy to clean and sturdy enough for laundering and repeated use or disposable.
Wearing a disposable coverall reduces decontamination time and lowers the risk of contaminating yourself, your application equipment, and your vehicle. Most importantly, wearing coveralls lessens the chance that you will take pesticides home. Handle disposable coveralls carefully, do not contaminate other people. Very few pesticides require a chemical-resistant coverall. If one is required, work with your PPE supplier to find one that provides the necessary level of protection based on the tasks you perform, the product formulation, and exposure.
Some pesticide labels require you to wear a chemical-resistant apron when mixing or loading a pesticide, or when cleaning application equipment. Select an apron that covers the front of your body from the middle of the chest to the knees.
A pesticide label may require chemical-resistant headgear if an overhead application may result in exposure. The headgear must protect against sprays so that no liquid breaks through the hat or hood. You may use either a chemical-resistant hat with a wide brim or a hood. Hoods attached to jackets or spray suits protect your neck and back from pesticide sprays that might otherwise run down your back. Wash headgear at the end of the day. When making overhead applications, do not use headgear made of absorbent material, such as cotton, leather, or straw. Cotton ball caps absorb pesticides. Do not wear them if overhead exposure is a concern.
Pesticide labels require you to wear socks and closed-toed shoes. Some product labels require you to wear chemical resistant footwear. A heavy-duty pair of unlined rubber boots or shoe covers provides protection from pesticides. Wear heavy-duty rubber boots that extend past your ankle and at least halfway up to your knee if you will enter or walk through treated areas before spray has dried. Put your pant legs outside your boots to prevent pesticides from running down your legs and becoming trapped in your footwear. Wash the boots inside and out at the end of the day. Leather and canvas absorb pesticides and cannot be decontaminated. Regulations allow you to substitute leather for chemical-resistant boots only when the chemical-resistant footwear required by the pesticide label is not durable enough for use in rough terrain. Do not use these boots for other purposes.
Pesticide handlers get by far the most exposure from pesticides on their hands and forearms. Research has shown that workers mixing pesticides received 85% of the total exposure on their hands and 13% on their forearms. The same study showed that wearing protective gloves reduced exposure by 99%. Protective gloves are essential to protect your skin. Pesticide labels often require waterproof gloves or one of the following glove types: nitrile rubber, butyl rubber, neoprene rubber, barrier laminate, and Viton®.
Each glove type varies significantly in how well it protects from the different solvents in formulated products. Read each label to determine which glove type is appropriate. This can vary from product to product, even those with similar active ingredients. The solvent in a formulation determines the type of protective glove to wear. Pesticide labels require either waterproof gloves (for solid or water-based formulations) or chemical resistant gloves for the various solvents (e.g., alcohols, ketones, and petroleum distillates) used in different formulations.
For liquid products that use a solvent other than water, EPA requires the label to specify particular glove materials that provide protection. Read the label carefully to make sure you have the correct protective glove material. Some pesticide labels specify both the glove material and its thickness. As a general rule, the thicker the glove (of the same material under identical conditions), the longer the breakthrough time. A pesticide label’s specification of glove type is generally based upon a thickness of 14 mils, except for polyethylene and barrier laminate gloves. Use the 14 mils thickness as a rule of thumb when selecting glove materials that appear on the pesticide label.
Glove durability is another important consideration. Select a glove that is protective, does not tear or puncture easily, and protects you for the duration of the task. Discard them if there is any sign of wear or if they leak. Do not use gloves made of any kind of absorbent material, lining, or flocking, including leather or cloth (exception: cloth gloves are used with fumigants). These types of gloves absorb pesticide and trap it closely against your bare skin, greatly increasing skin absorption.
Choose a glove size that fits you comfortably. Gloves that fit well provide increased dexterity for equipment maintenance or calibration. Gloves that are too tight stretch the material, allowing pesticides to break through. Gloves that are too large can get caught in equipment. Gloves that are too loose may allow pesticides to run down the inside and be directly absorbed by your skin. Select gloves designed to give you extra protection when needed for the job. Use elbow-length gloves when mixing and loading. Wear gloves according to how you are applying the pesticide. Do not use a glove beyond the breakthrough time.
When using reusable gloves, rinse them at each break and wash them thoroughly at the end of the workday. Absorbed pesticides will continue to enter the material if not removed. Make sure your gloves are in top condition. Throw out any gloves showing wear. Check glove integrity before each use. Rinse disposable gloves before discarding them.
Eyes readily absorb pesticides. When a label says to wear protective eyewear, you may use goggles; a face shield; safety glasses with shields at the front, brow, and temple; or a full-face respirator. Use common sense and select eyewear that protects you for the task. Eyewear made of impact-resistant material, such as polycarbonate, can protect you from flying objects, such as granular pesticides. However, safety glasses will not protect your eyes from pesticide splashes.
Products that are corrosive to the eyes (e.g., Danger signal word) require a particular type of eyewear. For example, goggles may be required when your eyes may be exposed to liquids or particulates during a certain application or use. Wear tightly fitting goggles when you are in high-exposure situations, such as an open cab during an air-blast application; applying mists, fogs, or aerosols indoors; or in any other location where you will be enveloped in a spray, mist, or dust. Make sure goggles are splash- and spray-proof and have an air baffle system for airflow and no side vents. If fogging is a problem, use anti-fog lens treatments or purchase low-fog goggles. If your eyewear has a headband that is made of pesticide-absorbent material, change it often or use a rubber strap. If possible, wear the strap under your hat or hood to protect it from becoming contaminated.
Protective eyewear can be worn with a half-face respirator. If you wear eyeglasses, you can buy an eyeglass insert for your full-face respirator that is fitted with your prescription. People who wear contact lenses should consult an eye doctor or their medical professional before using pesticides or wearing respirators.
When you use pesticides, you may be exposed to toxic gases, vapors, particulates (solids or liquids), or all of these. A respirator is a safety device that protects you from inhaling contaminated air. The pesticide label states whether you must use a respirator and if so, which type. The respirator type is based on the pesticide formulation, application method, and environment where the application is made.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) certifies that respirators have been tested according to certain standards. The NIOSH approval of a respirator indicates that it protects the wearer against specified contaminants. All respirator manufacturers issue approval certificates with a chart of all of the components considered part of the approved assembly. Respirator approvals are manufacturer-specific: do not interchange parts, cartridges, or filters between different manufacturers’ units. These certificates are typically package inserts with new respirators, cartridges, and filters. Find out if there are federal or state health and safety regulations that stipulate proper respirator selection, care, and use.
There are other respirators on the market that are not NIOSH-approved, such as nuisance dust masks and some surgical masks. When a respirator is required, wear a NIOSH-approved device that is listed on the pesticide label.
The two classes of respirators most often required for protection from pesticide exposure are atmosphere-supplying and air-purifying respirators.
Atmosphere-supplying respirators provide clean, breathable air from an uncontaminated source. Examples are airline respirators and self-contained breathing apparatus. In very specific uses, such as releasing phosphide fumigants in enclosed areas, the environment may be immediately dangerous to life and health. In these cases, the only kind of atmosphere-supplying respirators that may be used are either a pressure demand self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) with a full face piece or a pressure-demand full face piece air-line respirator with an SCBA escape bottle for emergencies.
Air-purifying respirators (APRs) remove contaminants from the air that you breathe. They do not supply oxygen and should never be used in an environment that has limited oxygen or is immediately dangerous to life or health. Air-purifying respirators may be either powered or non-powered.
When selected and used appropriately, elements for air-purifying respirators remove specific contaminants from the air passing through them. The pesticide label specifies which type of purifying element is required. Elements that remove particulates (e.g., dusts or sprays) are called filters, while vapor- and gas-removing elements are called either chemical cartridges or chemical canisters.
Particulate filters remove dusts, aerosols, or sprays suspended in the air that you breathe. Particulate filters DO NOT remove gases or vapors. The type of filter required on the pesticide label depends on whether the respirator is powered or non-powered.
EPA regulations require that you replace particulate filters according to respirator manufacturer recommendations or pesticide labeling (whichever is more frequent). If there are no other use directions, dispose of particulate filters at the end of eight hours of cumulative use.
Chemical cartridges or canisters use sorbents to remove contaminant specific gases and vapors. They do not remove particles. The most typical chemical cartridge or canister specified by the label for pesticide applications is an organic vapor removing (OV) cartridge or canister.
The service life of a chemical cartridge or canister depends on the type and concentration of pesticide, the user’s breathing rate, and humidity.
Chemical cartridge respirators, when selected appropriately, are essentially 100% efficient until the gas or vapor breaks through. Any taste, smell, or irritation indicates that breakthrough of the pesticide has occurred. Cartridges should be changed immediately whenever you detect breakthrough in the mask. Once used, an organic vapor cartridge must be disposed of at the end of the day. The pesticide trapped by the sorbent in the cartridge may desorb very easily overnight. If you were to use the cartridge the next day, you could breathe in the desorbed pesticide vapors. Always dispose of chemical cartridges at the end of a workday unless the manufacturer directs otherwise.
The pesticide label may direct you to use both a chemical cartridge or canister and a particulate filter. You have two options:
The combination chemical cartridge or canister for nonpowered air-purifying respirators will include N-, R-, or P-rated filters. The combination chemical cartridges for powered air-purifying respirators will include an HE filter.
Follow the same change-out practices listed individually for particulate filters and chemical cartridges. For example, if you were using a combo chemical cartridge with a P100 filter and detected breakthrough in your mask, you would change out your cartridges immediately even though the filter was still useable.
The respiratory protection required by the pesticide label is product and task-specific. The pesticide label will typically cite respiratory protection required using a NIOSH “TC” (Testing and Certification) designation. The NIOSH designations correspond to the types of respirators that may be specified by the pesticide label and include: TC-84A, TC-21C, TC-23C, TC-14G, TC-13F, and TC-19C.
Before selecting and using any respirator, get a medical evaluation to make sure wearing a respirator does not endanger your health. Next, read and understand the manufacturer’s instructions and NIOSH approval certificate that accompany the respirator and its components. For full protection, conduct a fit test before wearing a tight-fitting particulate-filtering face piece, half mask, or full-face mask. When wearing a tight-fitting respirator, nothing must interfere with the seal between the surface of the mask and your face, including beards and stubble.
Fit testing is a method to select the right size and type of tightfitting respirator for your face. Perform a qualitative or quantitative fit test of a given mask type on a user’s face to select the best-fitting respirator. It is important to get a fit test annually and whenever you use a different respirator face piece. Get fit tested again whenever something physically changes that could affect the fit of your respirator (e.g., facial scarring, dental work, cosmetic surgery, or a significant change in body weight). A respirator cannot protect you from pesticide exposure if it does not fit your face.
Always consult the pesticide label for the appropriate respirator and purifying elements. If you have any questions about your respirator, consult the manufacturer or use online resources. Be sure to review the manufacturer approved labels for use limitations of the respirator.
At the end of each workday, wash all work clothes and PPE. Some items, such as clothes and coveralls, can be washed using a washer and dryer. Other items, such as gloves, protective suits, goggles, aprons, boots, and eyewear, require hand washing. Wear protective gloves when handling contaminated items. Rinse and discard disposable items. Dispose of any non-reusable or contaminated item carefully to prevent cross-contamination or contamination of others who might handle the discarded item. Dispose of heavily contaminated items as household hazardous waste.
Launder fabric coveralls and work clothing after each day’s use. Some common sense guidelines for cleaning pesticide-soiled clothing include:
Never wash any garments made of absorbent materials that have been splashed or soaked with undiluted pesticide or large quantities of diluted pesticide. Remember to remove them immediately and dispose of them carefully.
Coveralls may be either a one-day disposable item or a reusable garment. Be sure to check the PPE manufacturer’s use limitations and laundering instructions. Replace these garments regularly and at any sign of wear. If any PPE cannot be cleaned properly, dispose of it according to applicable federal, state, and local regulations. Follow manufacturers’ instructions, if any, for the service life of reusable nonwoven garments. Pay close attention when reusing these items, and be ready to change them whenever you think that the inside surface may be contaminated. If using disposable garments, render them unusable and discard. If they are heavily contaminated with high-risk pesticides, handle them appropriately and take them to a household hazardous waste facility.
Be sure to clean boots and gloves, even if they are worn only briefly. Before taking your gloves off, wash them thoroughly. Wash both the inside and outside of boots and gloves once removed. Inspect these items and discard if there is any sign of wear or if they leak. Hang or leave to dry. Gloves are not designed to be reused over and over. Replace them often to ensure protection of your hands. Properly cared for, boots should last multiple seasons. Sun will degrade rubber materials quickly, so store gloves and boots out of the sun.
Most eyewear, respirator bodies, face pieces, and helmets are designed to be cleaned and reused. These items can last many years if they are good quality and are maintained according to the manufacturer’s directions. Respirators require more maintenance than most PPE. When you have finished using your respirator, remove and properly dispose of any expendable components, such as filters, cartridges, or canisters. Wash the face piece according to the respirator manufacturer’s directions. Take care to clean under and around gaskets and valves. Allow to air dry. Store cleaned respirators, as well as replacement purifying elements, in a clean, dry place that is not exposed to sunlight or extreme temperatures. Make sure that the rubber face piece is not distorted when stored so that it maintains its shape. Do not store any protective equipment—including respirators— with or near pesticides or other chemicals.
Wearing PPE can reduce the potential for dermal, inhalation, ocular, and oral exposure, this lowers the chances of pesticide injury, illness, or poisoning. Check the pesticide label for the minimum PPE required by law. In order to appropriately select and wear PPE, you must understand both its protections and its limitations. Then determine what protective equipment you need for the pesticide task at hand.
Check the “Agricultural Use Requirements” box on the label and the WPS requirements for any other statements about PPE use in farms, forests, nurseries, or greenhouses.
1) A pesticide label lists the ________ personal protective equipment (PPE) that an applicator must wear.
2) PPE requirements for applicators are listed in the _________ section of a pesticide label.
3) State or local regulations for use of PPE must be followed even if they are stricter that federal regulations.
4) According to the Worker Protection Standards (WPS), agricultural employers are not legally required to provide workers with PPE that is in good working order.
5) Correctly selected protective clothing should ______ the risk of pesticide exposure.
6) According to the EPA, “Chemical resistant” prevents _____ of a chemical from moving through a fabric or material.
7) Which of the following IS NOT one of the minimum elements of protective clothing that all pesticide applicators must wear?
8) Coveralls are ____ when making a pesticide application.
9) According to research, workers mixing pesticides get ___ percent of their exposure through their hands.
10) Pesticide labels require _______ gloves for products that contain alcohols, ketones, or petroleum distillates as solvents.
11) Pesticide labels require ____ gloves for products that contain solid or water-based solvents.
12) Unless specified differently on the product label, use protective gloves that are ___ mils thick.
12) Cloth gloves are used only with ________.
14) If one of your protective gloves leaks, you should _____.
15) Safety glasses will protect your eyes from pesticide splashes.
16) If goggles are required for a pesticide application, then you also must have ______ immediately available.
17) _____ approval of a respirator indicates that it protects the wearer against specified contaminants.
18) Dust masks and some surgical masks are excellent approved choices if the pesticide label specifies that a respirator must be worn during an application.
19) Air-purifying respirators are ideal for use in a limited oxygen environment or one that is immediately dangerous to health or life.
20) A ______ respirator element removes vapors or gasses from the air that passes through it.
21) Remove and dispose of particulate filters after ___ hours of cumulative use if there is no specific instruction from the manufacturer.
22) Full and half-mask respirators can be used safely by people with beards without fear of a leak.
23) Wash all work clothes and PPE ____.
24) Goggles, eyewear, and gloves require hand washing.
25) Use heavy-duty detergent, cold water at the lowest level, and only a small amount of family laundry when washing work clothes or coveralls worn during pesticide applications.
26) Clothing that has been contaminated with a pesticide concentrate should be _____.