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April 2013

Using pesticides – 10 ways to stay out of trouble

By Ellis Brasch

What is a pesticide? Most people think only an insecticide is a pesticide, which is why you often hear pesticides and herbicides used in the same sentence. Not true! Many people are shocked to learn herbicides like Roundup or disinfectants like Clorox bleach are pesticides. (If the container bears an EPA Registration number, it's a pesticide.)

Pesticides have the potential to harm more then just the pest if they're not used properly. Remember that the liability for improper application lies with the applicator. Here are 10 ways to stay out of trouble when you're using pesticides.

1. Read and follow the instructions on the label

The pesticide label is the law. The label has the instructions from the pesticide manufacturer to the pesticide user. Many serious incidents involving pesticides could be prevented if user took the time to read all of the information printed on the label.

The following "signal words," on a pesticide label describe its level of toxicity: DANGER/POISON, DANGER, WARNING, and CAUTION. Pesticides labeled DANGER/POISON are the most toxic.

The label also includes information about the pesticide's use rates, required personal protective equipment, first-aid measures, and its environmental hazards.

2. Understand the pesticide's hazards

Pesticides are hazardous because they're designed to kill. Pesticide exposures can cause a variety of adverse health effects ranging from skin irritation and irreversible eye damage to nervous system damage, reproductive problems, and cancer. Read the label to determine how to protect yourself from a pesticide's hazards. The Hazard Communication Standard requires employers to train their employees about this information before they use pesticides.

Pesticides can give off poisonous gases or explode when they're mixed or used improperly. Read the pesticide label to determine the product's acute (immediate) effects – and read the product's safety data sheet to determine its long term-effects.

3 Inform workers about pesticide applications

Pesticides can be applied anywhere: in or around homes, schools, and businesses; along rights-of-way; on fields and crops; and in forests. Employees entering these areas need to be informed about the application. The pesticide label indicates whether the Worker Protection Standard applies. The Worker Protection Standard requires agricultural and forestry employers to display information about pesticide safety, emergency procedures, and recent pesticide applications at a central location.

An employer's written Hazard Communication Program must describe how workers will be protected when chemical hazards are introduced by another employer, such as a structural pest control contractor.

4 Select, use, and maintain personal protective equipment properly

The pesticide label may require the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), including appropriate protective clothing, gloves, footwear, respirators, and protective eyewear.

Maintain PPE according to the manufacturer's guidelines and store it away from pesticides and personal items.

5 Store pesticides properly

Store pesticides according to the instructions on the label or the product's safety data sheets. Organize them by their chemical category (such as herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides) and label each category. Separate pesticides that could cause a hazardous reaction if they're mixed. Provide enough light and ventilation for employees to safely enter the storage area. Never store pesticides in food or drink containers. Additional storage requirements apply to pesticides labeled "restricted use."

Notify local emergency responders (including the fire department and police) so that they know where the pesticides are stored.

6 Medically evaluate and fit test respirator users

Respirators make it harder to breathe and can put stress on the body. If you require your employees to wear respirators or they want to wear one voluntarily, they must have a confidential medical evaluation. A physician or other licensed health care professional must do the evaluation at no cost to the employee.

Employees who wear respirators must also be fit tested annually for each type of respirator they use.

7 Make pesticide labels and safety data sheets available

Pesticide labels must be available at the mix site and safety data sheets must be readily available for every pesticide that employees use or may be exposed to at work. If you keep safety data sheets electronically, you must have a backup system so that employees can access the information during a power failure.

8 Properly dispose of used containers

Look for disposal instructions on the label. Triple-rinse and puncture used containers to prevent them from being reused and dispose of them at a container collection event or a recycler who handles agricultural plastics.

9 Plan a safe response to spills and leaks

Pesticide spills can happen during transportation, storage, mixing, and application. Follow the three Cs — Control, Contain, Clean Up — to manage spills. Control stops the release. Contain keeps the spill from spreading with an appropriate absorbent material. Clean up includes disposing of the contaminated material. Cleanup procedures vary by pesticide. See the safety data sheets for guidance! The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality regulates the disposal of cleanup material following a spill.

Remember that responders need access to the pesticide label and the safety data sheets so they can select appropriate PPE and determine proper cleanup methods.

10 Know the requirements for using pesticides

State government agencies involved in regulating pesticides and investigating pesticide-related incidents in Oregon include:

Garnet Cooke, Lori Cohen, and Kathleen Kincade contributed to this article.

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