According to the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) around 70% of farm workers are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (“BIPOC”). Farm workers are a vital part of the agricultural industry, and face unique workplace challenges. Many farm workers regularly work with pesticides, including restricted use pesticides that can only be applied by a certified applicator. Additionally, farm workers are often at risk of heat exposure, particularly during summer months and heat waves. For workers frequently exposed to pesticides and heat, it is important have access to resources that provide information on existing safety standards. This is the latest update in a series of periodic highlights of new and existing NALC resources that are relevant for BIPOC and other underserved communities. Relevant current events and blog posts relating to these communities are available here.  This post will focus on workplace-related challenges that affect farm workers.

Pesticides are an important aspect of agricultural work. They are used to control harmful weeds, pests, and diseases which can threaten the nation’s food supply and the livelihoods of people who work in the agricultural industry. However, improper pesticide application can put workers at risk of unsafe pesticide exposure. It is necessary for farm workers who apply pesticides or who are often nearby when pesticides are being applied to have access to resources with information on pesticide safety.

Heat exposure is an inescapable part of agricultural work, especially for outdoor farm workers. Because of this, farm workers are at high risk for developing life-threatening heat-related health issues. Heat-related deaths and illnesses affect thousands of people a year.

Federal Resources

The federal government has resources in place both for farm workers who work with pesticides, and farm workers who are exposed to heat.

With regard to resources on pesticide use, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) provides farm workers with a variety of resources. The Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (“WPS”) provides occupational protection to farm workers and pesticide handlers with the goal or reducing pesticide-related injuries. EPA has released a manual detailing how to properly comply with the WPS. The Agency also provides resources on how to become certified as a restricted use pesticides applicator.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) provides resources for preventing heat-related illnesses at work. OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Campaign aims to educate everyone about the potential dangers of working in the heat. Additionally, OSHA has provided a guide that explains how to keep workers safe and what workers need to know. The resource includes factors to develop ways to control heat risks, heat-related illness prevention, risk factors, symptoms, first aid recommendations, and various standards.

NALC and NALC Partners Resources

The NALC Pesticides Reading Room contains a variety of resources related to pesticide safety and use, including access to resources from EPA. Additionally, the NALC Ag & Food Law Update frequently publishes articles related to pesticides and pesticide law, including updates to lawsuits brought by farm workers who claim to have been injured from pesticide exposure.

NALC partner, the PennState Law Center for Agricultural and Shale Law also maintains issue trackers for certain pesticides. The issue tracker for glyphosate is available here and includes updates on litigation and regulation. A similar issue tracker for dicamba is available here. The Environmental Law Library maintained by NALC partners at the Ohio State University Extension’s Agricultural and Resource Law Program offers access to resources on pesticide use, including information on Ohio’s pesticide safety education program.

The NALC Ag & Food Law Update has published an article that goes more in-depth on the federal and state standards and guidelines that are in place to protect farm workers from heat exposure.