Worker Protection Standards (WPS) for Agricultural Pesticides

Key Features

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1992 issued regulations pertaining to the Worker Protection Standard for Agricultural Pesticides (WPS). The WPS is designed to protect employees of farms, forests, nurseries, and greenhouses from occupational exposure to agricultural pesticides.

The EPA determined that previous regulations were inadequate to protect agricultural workers and pesticide handlers who are exposed occupationally to pesticides. The WPS is intended to reduce the risk of pesticide poisonings and injuries among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers through appropriate exposure-reduction measures.

The WPS contains requirements for notifying employees of applications, the use of personal protective equipment, and restrictions on entry to treated areas. Additionally, the WPS also requires certain actions by employers to ensure worker safety. The WPS requires the registrants of pesticides to add label references to the WPS and to list specific application restrictions and other requirements.

The WPS has been revised and the final rule is published. . The new WPS requirements will take effect on January 2, 2017.

Affected Employees

WPS provisions are directed toward two types of employees:

Pesticide handlers-Those who mix, load, or apply agricultural pesticides; work with application equipment; assist in applying pesticides in any way; enter greenhouses or another enclosed area before inhalations exposure levels have been met; enter an outdoor area after application of any soil fumigant to adjust soil covering; or dispose of pesticides or their containers.

Agricultural workers-Those who do tasks related to the production of plants, including cultivating and harvesting the plants, on farms or in greenhouses, nurseries, or forests for any type of compensation.

Affected Employers

The WPS defines two types of employers affected by its provisions:

Agricultural employers-Those who employ or contract for the services of workers or own or operate an establishment that employs workers.

Handler employer-Those who hire pesticide handlers or are self-employed as handlers. This includes commercial and professional applicators.

Pesticide Products Covered by the WPS

The WPS covers nearly all pesticide products used to produce plants commercially, including pesticides used on soil and potting media. It also covers restricted-use and general-use products. WPS provisions are intended to:

  1. Minimize worker exposure to pesticides
  2. Mitigate any exposures
  3. Inform employees about the hazards of pesticides

Minimize Pesticide Exposure

Protection during applications-Handlers are prohibited from applying pesticide in a way that will expose workers or others. Workers must be kept out of areas while pesticides are being applied.

Restricted-entry Intervals (REIs)-Such intervals are specified on all agricultural pesticide product labels. Workers must be kept out of pesticide-treated areas during the REI with only a few exceptions. (See Restricted-entry Intervals and Early-entry Work Situations for Workers and Handlers, below.)

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)-The employer is required to provide and maintain PPE for handlers and early-entry workers. The handlers and workers must be provided a place to remove, clean, and store PPE and to clean themselves. (See Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) Definitions, below.)

Notification of workers-Employers must notify workers about treated areas so that workers can avoid exposure. Information about recent applications must be posted in a central location at the workplace. Workers can be notified of applications orally or by posted signs. Oral warning must include the location and description of the area and the time during which entry is restricted, and must warn workers not to enter an area until the REI has passed. Signs must be posted at all the entry points of treated fields, forests, or greenhouses. Signs must be posted 24 hours before the application, remain in place for the entire REI, and be removed within 3 days after the REI ends. At a minimum, signs must state that the area has been treated and people must stay out. The sign must be in English and in any other language the workers in the area understand. Signs must be 14 x 16 inches. Smaller signs (7 x 8 inches and 4.5 x 5 inches) may be used in greenhouses and nurseries. Contact your state's WPS contact, listed below, for more details.

Mitigate Pesticide Exposure

Decontamination-Employers must provide, for handlers and workers who handle anything that may have been treated with pesticides, a place to clean up after work. Sites for both types of employees must be within 0.25 mi of the work site but not in the work site. If the work site is not accessible within 0.25 mi by a vehicle, a decontamination station may be set up at the nearest access point. For handlers mixing pesticides, there must be a clean-up site at the mixing site. Sites must have enough potable water to wash eyes and the entire body in case of exposure. Sites also must have single-use towels, soap, and, for mixers, a pair of one-size-fits-all coveralls. Sites for handlers must be provided during the handling activity. Sites for workers must be provided for 30 days after the REI ends.

Emergency assistance-Employers must make transportation available to take a worker injured by pesticides to an emergency medical facility. The employer must also provide the medical professionals with the label(s) of the product(s) used and the circumstances of the exposure.

Inform Employees about Pesticide Hazards

Pesticide safety training-Training, by a state-certified or other qualified trainer, must be given to all workers and handlers. Handlers and workers must be trained every 5 years. Early-entry workers (workers who enter an area before the restricted-entry period has ended) must be trained before they perform any early-entry work. (See Education Requirements under the Worker Protection Standard, below.)

Pesticide safety poster-WPS requires posting a pesticide safety poster in a central location. The poster must include tips on how to avoid pesticide contamination and a list of emergency phone numbers and procedures. The poster should be kept in good condition.

Access to pesticide label information-WPS requires that pesticide handlers and early-entry workers be informed of pesticide label safety information.

Access to specific information-Employers must post, in a central area accessible to all workers, specific information about pesticide treatments on that workplace. This information must be accessible to employees for at least 30 days after each pesticide application.

Penalties for Noncompliance

WPS penalties for noncompliance are similar to penalties for using pesticides in a way that is inconsistent with the label. Fines are up to $1,000 for private applicators and up to $5,000 for commercial/professional applicators. Knowingly violating the WPS can result in fines up to $1,000 and 30 days in jail for private applicators; for commercial applicators, fines can be as high as $25,000 and 1 year in jail. Most states and tribes can enforce their own laws and regulations and have their own penalties. Contact state pesticide regulatory agencies for more details.

Educational Requirements under the Worker Protection Standard

A key part of the WPS is that those employed as either handlers or workers must receive training to reduce their risk of being harmed by pesticides. It is the employer's responsibility to make sure employees have received proper training. Training must be provided before anyone employed as a handler or an early-entry worker begins work. All other workers must be trained before they have worked 5 separate days in areas that have been treated within the past 30 days or in an area in which an REI has been in effect. Training requirements are met with the following situations

  • The employee has been trained within the last 5 years, even if he or she has changed employers.
  • The worker is currently certified as an applicator of restricted-use pesticides.
  • The worker is currently trained as a handler who works under the supervision of a certified pesticide applicator.

Training can be given only by certain individuals, and it must be done in certain ways and cover certain topics. A person who trains handlers must:

  • Be a currently certified applicator of restricted-use pesticides, or
  • Be currently designated as a trainer of certified pesticide applicators or pesticide handlers by a state, federal, or tribal agency having jurisdiction, or
  • Have completed a pesticide safety train-the-trainer program approved by a state, federal, or tribal agency having jurisdiction.

In order to train workers, the trainer must:

  • Be currently qualified, as described above, to train handlers, or
  • Be currently trained as a handler who works under the supervision of a certified pesticide applicator, or
  • Be currently trained as a WPS handler, or
  • Have completed a pesticide safety train-the-trainer program approved by a state, federal, or tribal agency having jurisdiction.

A person must be trained at least once every 5 years, counting from the end of the month in which the previous training was completed, even if the person changes employers.

There are certain requirements for conducting training. The training must be in a language that trainees can understand and must use nontechnical terms. The training must use written and/or audiovisual materials. The trainer must respond to any trainee's questions.

For details on requirements and training materials, contact your state pesticide agency.

Restricted-entry Intervals and Early-entry Work Situations for Workers and Handlers

Restricted-entry Intervals

To minimize the potential for agricultural workers' exposure to pesticides, the Worker Protection Standard requires that pesticide products carry a Restricted-entry Interval (REI). REI is the time between the end of a pesticide application and the beginning of unlimited access to the treated area. During the REI, entry to the treated area is limited. The REI for a given product may be different for different crops, different climates, different crop activities (irrigation, pruning, etc.), or different application methods. When more than one pesticide product is applied, the longest REI is used. REIs for a pesticide product are on the pesticide label under "Agricultural Use Requirements" in the "Directions for Use" section. Sometimes they might also be listed next to the crop or application method to which they pertain. It is very important to read the label before applying the pesticide.

REIs are based on the signal word assigned to a given pesticide product. Signal words are based on the toxicity of a pesticide product's active ingredients. In general, REIs are:

Danger 48 hours

Warning 24 hours

Caution 12 hours

Exceptions to this general rule are common. REIs can be longer or shorter depending on the method or site of application, the toxicity of the specific active ingredients, and the way the active ingredients can affect human health. Certain pesticides containing ingredients such as glyphosate, mineral oil, or Bacillus thuringiensis (bacteria) as active ingredients have REIs as short as 4 hours because of their low toxicity to humans. Because of the variation in REI lengths, it is important to read the label before beginning an application.

Early-entry Work Situation

The Worker Protection Standard seeks to reduce exposure by excluding workers from treated areas for a period of time after an application. PPE required for early entry into a treated site is clearly stated on the label in the "Agricultural Use" box. A worker can enter a treated area before the REI has expired under two exceptions.

  1. The worker will not be contacting any surface that was treated with a pesticide, including soil, plant material (including weeds), air and water.
  2. The worker will be making contact with treated surfaces but only under certain working conditions:
    • Tasks that take less than 1 hour and do not involve hand labor;
    • Tasks that take place because of an agricultural emergency;
    • Specific tasks approved by the EPA through a formal exception process.

Under the specific-tasks exception, the WPS allows for limited contact activities and irrigation activities when unforeseen conditions arise that, if not addressed, would result in significant economic loss. In addition, the following conditions must be met:

  1. The worker has minimal, limited contact with treated surfaces. A "limited contact" task is a task other than hand labor performed by workers which results in minimal contact with treated surfaces and where such contact with treated surfaces is limited to the forearms, hands, lower legs, and feet.
  2. The label does not require double notification.
  3. Personal protective equipment is provided that meets the standard for early-entry workers or the generic PPE requirement (coveralls, chemical-resistant gloves and footwear, and socks).
  4. No hand labor is performed.
  5. The worker is in the treated area no longer than 8 hours in a 24-hour period.
  6. No entry is allowed for the first 4 hours and until any required ventilation criterion or inhalation exposure level is reached.
  7. Oral or written notification specific to the early-entry exception is provided to the worker.
  8. All other early-entry worker requirements are met.

Early-entry workers who will contact treated surfaces must be provided with training before they enter a work area. The employer must provide both personal protective equipment and decontamination sites.

More Information on the Worker Protection Standard

EPA Worker Protection Standard website:


Luis Urias

Idaho State Department of Agriculture

Division of Agricultural Resources, Boise



Oregon Department of Agriculture

Pesticides Division



Washington Department of Agriculture
Pest Management Division

PO Box 42589

Olympia, WA 98504


Information is also available from your local Extension educator.