Personal Protective Equipment for pesticide handlers
Pesticides are used to control weeds, insects and diseases. It is important to read the label to know how to safely and effectively use pesticides. A signal word ranging from caution to danger will be found on the product label. It tells the user how toxic the pesticide is to humans and the environment. Caution indicates the pesticide is slightly toxic, whereas, danger indicates it is highly toxic. Vigilant handling and application of these products is important for the safety of the applicator and the environment. The label is a legal document that will provide information about how to mix and apply the product, what personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn when using the product, and what to do with the unused portion or empty container.
Proper handling begins with wearing the appropriate PPE when mixing, loading and applying pesticides. Nearly every label will instruct the user to wear at a minimum, a long sleeve shirt, long pants, shoes and socks and chemical-resistant gloves at all times while using the product. Different PPE may be required when mixing and loading than when applying the product.
Dermal exposure occurs when pesticides come in contact with skin. Handlers get the most pesticide exposure on their hands and forearms; therefore, chemical-resistant gloves should be worn at all times while handling the product. Gloves should be unlined and made from a chemical-resistant material like nitrile or neoprene. Latex gloves are not chemical resistant and do not provide adequate protection when applying pesticides. Wearing the proper chemical-resistant gloves can reduce the user’s dermal exposure by 99 percent. Gloves should be tucked inside sleeves unless working overhead. This prevents pesticides from running into gloves if there is a spill or splash. When applying pesticides overhead, gloves should be on the outside of shirt sleeves to prevent the pesticide from running down the sleeve and coming into direct contact with skin.
A chemical-resistant apron or suit will provide more protection when handling concentrated products during mixing and loading operations. If clothing becomes saturated with pesticides, change them immediately. If pesticides remain in contact with the skin for long periods of time, they could cause illness. Leather boots, leather or cloth gloves, and cloth hats do not protect the wearer from pesticide exposure. They may absorb pesticides and hold them in contact with the skin every time they are worn increasing dermal exposure.
If pesticides may come in contact with feet, the applicator should wear chemical-resistant boots. If there is a risk of exposure from above, wear a chemical-resistant hood or hat to protect the head and neck. Face shields and safety glasses provide protection for eyes. Prescription eyeglasses or sunglasses do not provide adequate eye protection.
Some pesticides will require the applicator to wear an air purifier. It will filter out dust, mists and particles and remove gases and vapors. It does not protect the wearer from fumigants, extremely high concentrations of vapor or when the oxygen supply is low. Perform a fit test before using a respirator. A respirator must fit securely to be effective.
Clean PPE according to the manufacturer’s directions and wash hands, forearms, face and neck when the handling activity is complete. Launder clothing worn when handling pesticides separate from other clothing to avoid contaminating clothing worn by other family members.
Always read and follow all pesticide label directions.
Valerie Tate is an MU Extension Agronomist.