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Dress for success to apply pesticides

Farm safety

With the planting season upon us, pesticides will be part of the arsenal of tools used to prepare for and maintain the impressive patchwork of golden wheat, creamy oats, mustard canola and azure flax across the Prairies. Keeping pests at bay often requires handling chemicals, so the right mix of safe handling practices and personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed to get the job done.

All pesticides are not equal. Different pesticides require different PPE depending on the formulation and type of potential exposure. Read the label. Do you require a chemically resistant apron or suit, impervious footwear, gloves, headgear, eye protection, or respirator? What about work clothes such as a long-sleeved shirt or pants? While chemical exposure most commonly occurs on the hands and forearms, pesticides can enter the body through the skin, mouth, eyes and nose. Moist areas of the body — including the eyes, groin, armpits and ear canals — are particularly absorptive. PPE must protect all body parts at risk of exposure.

What PPE is required will also differ depending on the task being performed. Will you be mixing pesticides, loading, applying, performing cleanup operations or entering a treated area? If you are applying a pesticide, what is the method of application? Will you be using a handheld or mechanized sprayer? Is the formula in liquid or dry form? The pesticide label will address all of these factors.

When reading a pesticide label, look for one of three signal words to help you understand the exposure risks associated with the product: Caution, Warning and Danger. Caution indicates that the product is slightly toxic when exposed to the skin, lungs, eyes, or mouth. Warning indicates that contact with at least one of these areas is moderately toxic, while Danger indicates that the product is highly toxic when expose occurs via the skin, lungs, eyes, or mouth. If you aren’t sure you have the right PPE for the pesticide, contact your provincial government or the manufacturer of either the pesticide or PPE. If you are unsure, don’t apply it.

Once you have selected your PPE, it is important that it is worn and used properly. Special goggles are often required to prevent eye exposure. When clothing meets protective footwear or gloves, it’s important to ensure appropriate overlap of PPE to prevent chemicals from coming into contact with your legs, arms or feet. Respirators must be fit tested before they are used for the first time, and checked annually unless your weight or other facial features change between fit tests. A seal check must be performed every time you don a respirator to ensure a good seal.

Discomfort, particularly from heat, is never a reason to remove PPE. Instead, work when it is cool, take breaks, drink lots of water, or find other alternatives to reduce discomfort. If all else fails, quit for the day. Removing your PPE before the job is done is not worth the risk.

PPE is susceptible to wear and tear. Check all PPE on a regular basis, discarding anything that may compromise your protection. Replace and dispose of any PPE or PPE components according to product instructions.

Don’t linger in your PPE. Remove it as soon as you have completed your task. Wash disposable or reusable gloves with soap and water, remove other PPE with your gloves still on, and then wash your gloves again before removing them. Wash PPE separately from other laundry using detergent and hot water. Store your PPE according to instructions. This often includes protecting PPE from chemicals, sunlight, extreme temperatures, high humidity and moisture. Never store PPE with other personal clothing or near pesticides.

Employers are required to follow the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), the Pest Control Products Act, as well as any applicable provincial occupational health and safety laws. If you employ workers, you are responsible for providing them with information about the pesticides they are using, the required PPE for the task at hand, appropriate training in the use of that PPE, and immediate transportation to a medical facility in the event of pesticide exposure. You are required to ensure their PPE fits properly, and that it is correctly cleaned, maintained, replaced and stored.

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