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Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP)
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Skip Navigation LinksPSEP > Tutorials/Slide sets > Pesticide Applicator Core Tutorial > Module 7: Safety Precautions
Safety Precautions with Pesticides

Safety Precautions

You, an applicator working with toxic materials , are interested in safeguarding your health. You also want to protect other people and the environment from pesticide injury. Many pesticide accidents result from careless practices or ignorance. Learn safe procedures; it's for your own good!

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Goals of This Module

  • Learn proper safety precautions for before, during and after pesticide application.

  • Understand the importance of cleanup measures.

  • Understand the need for personal protective equipment.

Before Application

Before you decide to apply pesticides, always be sure that all factors are favorable for protecting you, others, and the environment. Do not consider applying pesticides if all the factors described in this chapter are not as they should be.

Many safety precautions should be taken before you actually begin applying pesticides. Too many pesticide applicators are dangerously and unnecessarily exposed to pesticides while they are preparing to spray. Most pesticide accidents can be prevented with informed and careful practices.

All pesticide users are strongly advised to keep thorough records for personal, crop, and economic protection. Regulations require specific records (see Chapter II), but beyond requirements they can be very helpful. Information on previous applications can prevent damage to sensitive crops, as well as prevent the presence of illegal residues. Consistent, yearly records will assist you in your pest control practices and guide you in future pest control programs.

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Plan Ahead. Always read the label on the pesticide container before you begin to use it. Make sure that you understand everything you need to know about the pesticide ahead of time so that you are a responsible user. Carefully follow all the directions and precautionary advice on the label.

Be sure that you are prepared to deal with an emergency exposure or spill before you begin using pesticides. Be prepared for emergency exposures and know the first aid procedures for the pesticides you use. Always post emergency phone numbers. If you or any of your fellow workers feel sick, do not try to finish the job. Leave the treated area and seek help immediately. To prepare for accidental spills, have some kind of absorptive material available such as kitty litter, clay, activated charcoal, or sawdust to soak up spills or leaks. Hydrated lime should be available for decontamination of spill surfaces. Keep plenty of soap, detergent, and water or anything else suggested on the label for emergencies or cleanup. In case a change of clothing is necessary, have extra clothes or a protective suit available.

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Finally, you should have a good understanding of your legal responsibilities when you or your workers handle and apply pesticides. Do not guess about this or anything else about your work. If you have questions about pesticide safety, techniques involving pesticide use and

disposal, emergency situations, or your responsibilities under the law, call your state pesticide regulatory agency or your local Cooperative Extension agent before you use pesticides.

Move Pesticides Safely. Carelessness in transporting pesticides can result in broken containers, spills and contamination. Once pesticides are in your possession, you are responsible for safely transporting them. Accidents can occur even when transporting materials a short distance. If a pesticide accident occurs, you are responsible. Do all you can to prevent a transport problem, but be prepared in case an emergency should arise.

The safest way to carry pesticides is in the back of a truck. Flatbed trucks should have side and tail racks. Steel beds are preferable since they can be more easily decontaminated if a spill should occur. Never carry pesticides inside your car, van, or truck cab. Pesticides may cause injury or death if they spill on you or your passengers; hazardous fumes may be released. Spills on seat covers are very hard to remove, and may be a source of future contamination if they are not cleaned up properly. Never leave your vehicle unattended when transporting pesticides in an unlocked trunk compartment or open-bed truck. You, and not your company are legally responsible if curious children or careless adults are accidentally poisoned by unattended pesticides.

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Children must never be allowed to ride on or near pesticides. Never transport groceries or livestock feed near pesticides. Secure all pesticide containers in such a way that they cannot shift, roll, or bounce around. All containers should be protected from moisture that would saturate paper and cardboard packages or rust metal. Any spills in or from the vehicle must be immediately cleaned up, using correct procedures. If a spill is large, regulatory authorities must be notified.

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Some pesticides are designated "hazardous substances" by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Certain guidelines apply to the transportation of pesticides that are on DOT's list of hazardous substances. For example, shipping papers must be carried in the truck cab if designated pesticides are moved on the highway. The truck may also be required to display a sign ("placard") which indicates that hazardous substances are being transported. The state DOT office should be contacted for detailed information on which pesticides are on the hazardous substance list, and what rules apply to them during transportation.

Personal Protective Equipment. The need for personal protective equipment depends mainly on the pesticide being handled. You may wear ordinary work clothes (long sleeve shirt and pants) while using pesticides of low toxicity (category III or lower toxicity levels), but it is a good idea to reserve one set of work clothes specifically for this purpose. More toxic chemicals (categories I and II) require coveralls worn over another layer of clothes, or chemical-resistant protective suits. In the Worker Protection Standards (WPS) for agricultural pesticides, the EPA defines a material as "chemical resistant" if it shows no measurable movement of pesticide through the material during use.
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Personal protective equipment requirements are printed on pesticide labels. These requirements are based on the toxicity, route of exposure, and formulation of that pesticide. When working with moderately (category II) or highly toxic (category I) pesticides, wear coveralls over another layer of clothes or a chemical-resistant protective suit, chemical -resistant gloves, and chemical-resistant footwear to prevent exposure of the skin to the pesticide. If the pesticide is an eye irritant, wear goggles, shielded safety glasses, or a face shield. If ordinary coveralls will wet through, use a chemical-resistant suit or apron. Synthetic rubber boots protect against liquid and dry formulations. Natural rubber boots are effective only for dry formulations.
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The activity, the environment, and the handler also influence the choice of protective equipment. The activity-related factors are type of activity, duration, equipment, and deposition pattern of the pesticide onto the handler. Mixing/loading procedures often require extra precautions when the pesticide is in concentrated form, but a closed mixing/loading system can reduce this risk. Airblast application more often results in greater applicator exposure than in other application methods, so additional precautions are advisable. Activities that deposit pesticides on the head or scrotum require protective head- or body-gear because these body parts absorb pesticides at a much faster rate than other body parts.

Wind increases the risk of outdoor pesticide application. When exposed to downward drift, wear a wide brimmed, chemical-resistant hat that protects the face and back of the neck. Consider wearing a face mask, shielded safety glasses, or goggles. Be aware that extreme heat and humidity can cause heat stroke and exhaustion. Other environmental considerations are terrain, proximity to public places, and open versus closed spaces.

You, the pesticide applicator, make the final decisions in the selection, use, and care of personal protective equipment. No one protective garment offers universal protection. Each pesticide use demands individual choices of protective equipment. Carefully read the pesticide label for protective equipment requirements and take additional precautions as indicated by the activity, environment, and your own personal needs.
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Mixing and Filling. Protective gear is especially important when you mix and load pesticides in their undiluted, concentrated forms. Studies show that you are at a greater risk of accidental poisoning when handling pesticide concentrates. Pouring pesticide concentrates from one container to another is the most hazardous activity. That is why it is important that you wear protective clothing and equipment before you handle pesticides.
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Read and carefully follow the label directions each time you mix pesticides. Even if you have used a pesticide before, read the label again. Pesticide labels frequently change. Each new container may have important new label information that must be followed. Carefully choose the pesticide mixing and loading area. It should be outside or in a well ventilated area away from other people, livestock, pets, and food or feed. It is best to mix and load pesticides on a concrete pad where spills are easily cleaned up. Pesticides should not be mixed in areas where a spill or overflow could get into a water supply. Handling areas are frequently located near a pond or stream bank. In such a situation, grade the area to slope away from the water. If you or your workers must work indoors, or at night, work in a well-ventilated area with good lighting. If possible, do not work alone, especially when using highly toxic pesticides. It is a good idea for anyone handling extremely poisonous materials to talk to, or make eye contact with another person every two hours.

Measure pesticides carefully, making sure to mix them in the appropriate proportions. Different pesticides should not be mixed together unless a combination is called for on a label, and/or if an authority has been consulted. Remember, pesticides should be kept in their original containers so that the label directions and precautions are always with the toxic material. It is always a good idea to label all items that are used for handling pesticides (measuring utensils, protective equipment, etc.) to prevent their use for other purposes.

Plan your application so that you mix and use only what is needed . Do not use any more than the amount listed on the label. Using more product than the label recommends will not do a better job of controlling pests and is illegal. The overuse of pesticides may:

  • raise the cost of pest control.

  • increase the chance of illegal pesticide residues in treated foods.

  • increase the possibility that pesticides may reach and contaminate groundwater.

  • lead to pesticide resistance.

Open pesticide containers carefully to decrease the possibility of accidental splashes, spills, or drift. Do not tear paper containers open, use scissors for safe, spill free opening. Be sure to clean tools that are used for opening containers. To prevent contamination, always make sure opening tools are used only for pesticide-related work.

When pouring pesticides, always stand with your head well above the container and the filling hole of the spray tank, so that you and your clothing do not get splashed. Never use your mouth to siphon a pesticide from a container. While you should not be using pesticides when there is a strong wind, if there is any breeze, make sure that it is blowing away from you or from your right or left when you pour or mix these toxic materials.

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Never leave a spray tank unattended while it is being filled, as it may overflow. Install anti-siphon devices on filler pipes and/or always maintain an air gap between the filler pipe and the tank. Close containers after each use to prevent spills. If a pesticide spills on the floor or ground, it should be cleaned up immediately. A pesticide spill can potentially cause great harm to others, as well as cause environmental contamination. Toxic quantities of some concentrated chemicals may remain in soil for many months or years.

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Equipment. Carefully choose the most suitable equipment for applying your pesticides. Always use equipment correctly and take good care of it. Before you begin using your equipment, check it thoroughly to be absolutely sure that everything is working properly. Calibrate your equipment so that you apply the exact amount of pesticide necessary. Be sure there are no leaks in hoses, pumps, or tanks. Check for loose connections and worn spots in hoses that could leak or burst. One way to check for leaks is to operate the equipment at normal pressures with clean water before filling with pesticide mixture. If belts, pulleys, or drive chains are exposed, put guards around them so that you, children, or other people cannot be injured. The spray tank should have a tight lid so that neither you nor others will be splashed and spray materials will not leak onto the ground.

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Prenotification. Before application, make sure that the treatment area is clear of all unprotected people. Many states require that all persons in the intended treatment areas, or even in adjacent areas, be informed about pesticide applications before the pesticides are applied. This warning is referred to as "prenotification". Prenotification of a pesticide application is intended to protect others from exposure to pesticides. Check with your state pesticide regulatory agency or your local Cooperative Extension agent for the prenotification procedures required by your state.

While you are applying pesticides there are many safety precautions to follow. You are responsible for the protection of not only yourself but other people, domestic animals, and the environment as well. You cannot afford to be careless!

During Application


Avoid Exposure. Even moderately toxic chemicals can be poisonous to you when they are used day after day. Pesticides can contaminate clothing and may soak through to your skin. Do not work in drift, spray, or runoff unless you are properly protected. If pesticides spill on your gloves, be careful not to wipe your hands on your clothing. Work in pairs when you are dealing with hazardous pesticides. Handlers of highly toxic pesticides should try to make visual or voice contact with another person every two hours. Carefully supervise your employees to make sure that all safety precautions are followed.

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Never blow out clogged hoses or nozzles with your mouth. Use a nylon bristle brush for clearing out these equipment parts. Be sure that any tool that is used for this kind of job does not get used for anything else!

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Wash your hands and face thoroughly after you use pesticides and before you do any other activity. Never eat, drink, or smoke when handling pesticides. Chemicals can get transferred from your hands to your mouth during smoking. Don't smoke in recently treated areas. Smoking with pesticide-soiled hands can also be extremely dangerous if flammable chemicals are being used.

Not all labels will state it, but you as a pesticide applicator are required by law to prevent direct or indirect exposure of workers and other persons. Keep children, unauthorized persons, and pets out of the area to be sprayed and at a safe distance from sprayers, dusters, filler tanks, storage areas, and/or old pesticide containers.

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Avoid Sensitive Areas. Avoid spraying near houses, schools, playgrounds, hospitals, bee hives (apiaries), lakes, streams, pastures, or sensitive crops. If you must spray near sensitive areas, never spray or dust outside on windy days. Even with low winds, always apply downwind from any sensitive area. Plan your applications for times when people, animals, pets, and nontarget pests (such as honey bees) will not be exposed. Notify residents and beekeepers when you plan to spray in their areas and urge them to take appropriate precautions. Never spray directly into or across streams, ponds, or lakes without first checking with authorities regarding appropriate procedures or necessary permits. Completely cover or remove toys and pet dishes, as well as close all of the windows. Be sure that children and pets are not present in the area of the pesticide application. Avoid sensitive indoor areas such as infants' rooms, food preparation and storage areas, heating and air conditioning systems, and also be familiar with pet and fish tank locations.

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Avoid Drift, Runoff, and Spills. Pesticides that fall anywhere but on the target area can injure people, crops, and the environment. Choose weather conditions, pesticides, application equipment, pressure, droplet size, formulations, and adjuvants that minimize drift and runoff hazard. Spills can be avoided by taking simple precautions.

Avoid Equipment Accidents. Properly maintained and carefully used equipment contribute to safe pesticide application. Poor maintenance and careless use of equipment add to the hazard posed by pesticides.

  • Be sure to turn off your machinery before making any adjustments or repairs on it. If someone else is doing repair work on equipment that has not been cleaned, warn them of possible hazards.

  • Do not allow children, pets, or unauthorized people near the pesticide equipment. If you are working some distance from your equipment or at the end of a long spray hose, have someone keep watch near the sprayer so that no one gets injured by the machinery.

  • Between jobs, pressurized tanks or systems (i.e. hand held sprayers) should be depressurized. Turn off main pressure valve on bulk containers and release the pressure remaining in your application wand.

  • Once the tank is empty, release the pressure from your application equipment. Be sure to close the outlet valves. Always return equipment to appropriate areas for cleaning and storage when pesticide applications are completed.

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Safety and caution does not end with the application of the chemical. Proper cleanup and safety measures are still necessary. Complete one job entirely before going on to the next.

Storage and Disposal.
Try to use all the pesticide in your tank. If you have some left at the end of the job, use the remainder on other target locations at the recommended dosage. Clean the equipment and put it away immediately after use to prevent accidents.

Do not leave pesticides or pesticide containers out in the field or at the application site. Be sure to account for every container used. Safely dispose of empty containers. Do not reuse pesticide containers for any purpose. NEVER give them to children for any use. Partially used pesticides should be stored in their tight original containers in a locked building. Keep children and uninformed people away from the storage area. (See Modules XXI Disposal and XXII Storage.)

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Clean Up. Mixing, loading, and application equipment must be cleaned as soon as you are finished using them. A question that is often asked by applicators: Is wash water from cleaning application equipment hazardous? EPA's response to this question is as follows:

John H. Skinner, Director, Office of Solid Waste, United States Environmental Protection Agency, in a letter dated July 22, 1985 states:

"Airplane washing rinsewater is not hazardous via mixture rule....The Agency does not believe that the pesticide residue left on the aircraft is a discarded commercial chemical product. The residue does not qualify as a material discarded or intended to be discarded."

"Consequently, we are withdrawing our previous interpretation that airplane washing rinsewater is a hazardous waste via the mixture rule."

Marcia E. Williams, Director, Office of Solid Waste, US EPA, in a letter dated May 30, 1986 states:

"Since the Agency sees no difference between washwaters from aerial versus ground application equipment, it is logical that the interpretation issued in July 1985 should also extend to the washwaters from ground equipment."

"Consequently, the rinsewater would not be considered a hazardous waste under the mixture rule and would only be considered hazardous if the rinsewater exhibited one of the characteristics of a hazardous waste identified in Subpart C of Part 261."
The preceding citation is from (Bert L. Bohmont, The Standard Pesticide User's Guide [Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1990], 349).

Marcia William's letter refers to Subpart C of Part 261. This jargon refers to specific sections of the Code of Federal Regulations that describe hazardous wastes. These sections describe characteristics of ignitable, corrosive, reactive, or extraction procedure toxic wastes (Parts 261.21 - 261.24 of the Code of Federal Regulations). Check with your state pesticide regulatory agency for specifics on how pesticide wash or rinsewater must be handled in your state.

Cleaning should be done in a special area that has a wash rack or concrete apron with a sump for catching contaminated wash water. The best way to dispose of wash water containing a registered pesticide is to use it as directed on the label. Collect the contaminated water and use it to dilute the pesticide or a compatible pesticide if possible. Waste from equipment cleanup must be kept out of water supplies and streams.

It is extremely important for pesticide equipment to be properly cleaned between applications. Accidental injury or death of sensitive plants or animals may occur from applications that are made with slight residues of previously-used pesticides in equipment.

Be sure to clean the inside and outside of the equipment, including the nozzles. This job should only be done by trained persons who are wearing proper personal protective equipment. The outside of your equipment should be washed so that people touching it will not be exposed to pesticides. The inside must also be cleaned so that dangerous chemical mixing does not occur.

At the end of each day take a shower. Wash your body and scalp thoroughly with soap and water. Remember to scrub your nails. Place pesticide-soiled protective equipment in a designated place away from people, pets, and the family laundry. Launder washable clothing separately every day this applies to regular work clothes worn under protective coveralls, as well as to garments directly exposed to pesticides. Disposable or limited-use garments should not be reused. Discard according to applicable federal, state, and local regulations. Ask your state regulatory agency for disposal recommendations.

Wash Pesticide-Soiled Clothing. Spray clothing should be changed and washed daily. The pesticides on your clothes could harm other people who touch them. Keep pesticide-soiled clothing away from the family laundry and warn the person who will be washing your spray clothes of possible dangers. The person doing the laundry should wear chemical -resistant gloves. Do not allow children to play in or near the contaminated clothing. Do not dry-clean pesticide-contaminated clothing.

The recommended procedures for cleaning pesticide-soiled clothing for reuse are given on the following page:

  • Air. Hang garments outdoors to air. Sunshine and ventilation aid in the breakdown of certain pesticides. Do not hang contaminated garments with uncontaminated garments. Do not hang contaminated garments close to residences or in areas frequented by people or pets.

  • Prerinse. Use one of three methods: 1) hose off garments outdoors in an area away from people and pets, 2) rinse in separate tub or pail kept for that purpose, or 3) agitate in an automatic washer.

  • Pretreat. Rub a heavy-duty liquid into the heavily soiled areas of the pesticide-contaminated garment.

  • Washer load. Always wash garments separately from family wash. Pesticides can move from contaminated clothing to other clothing, to equipment, or to the unprotected hands of the person doing the laundry. Wash garments contaminated with the same pesticide together.
  • Load size. Wash only a few garments at a time.

  • Water level. Use full water level.

  • Water temperature. Use hot water, 140 oF or higher.

  • Wash cycle. Use a normal 12-minute wash cycle.

  • Laundry detergent. Use a built heavy-duty laundry detergent. Built detergents contain additional cleaning agents that control water hardness, increase and maintain alkalinity of wash water, react with oily soils, and suspend particulate soil. Built detergents are needed for pesticide-contaminated clothing because the pesticide is often mixed with other soils. Polyphosphates are the preferred builder because they clean well without forming a precipitate that adheres to the clothing. Where phosphates in detergents are prohibited, as in New York State, sodium carbonate, sodium aluminosilicate, and sodium nitrilotriacetate may be used as builders. Use the amount recommended on the package; use more for heavily soiled garmets or hard water. Remember to dissolve powdered detergent before adding the clothing to the washing machine.

  • Rinse. Use two full warm rinses.

  • Rewash. Wash contaminated garments two or three times before reuse for more complete pesticide removal.

  • Dry. Hang outdoors to avoid contaminating dryer and to encourage further dissipation of the chemical.

  • Clean washer. Run a complete, but empty cycle. Use hot water and detergent.

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Entering a Treated Area. Unprotected people should wait until the proper time to enter an area that has had a pesticide application. The entry restriction is the period of time that should pass between treatment and returning to a treatment area. Entry restrictions may be found on some pesticide labels. Restricted entry intervals (REI) are one type of entry restriction. Do not allow workers, children, or other persons to reenter the sprayed area until this time has passed. When no restricted entry times are stated on the label, use good judgement in allowing people to return to treated areas or structures. Always wait at least until sprays dry, dusts settle, and vapors disperse. If you must reenter an area early after spraying:

  • Be sure to wear all the necessary personal protective equipment required on the label.

  • Do not touch treated surfaces.

  • Be sure to have decontamination water nearby and know how to use it.

Some highly toxic pesticides (organophosphates and carbamates) have legally specified entry restrictions of 24 or 48 hours. These time periods are listed on the pesticide labels. Some states have set even longer reentry times for some pesticides because of particular climatic conditions and other special hazards that exist in their areas.

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Carelessness causes injury and death. Protect yourself, others, and the environment by using care and common sense. Learn safe procedures, it's for your own good!

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