EPA stands firm on worker safety rules | Pesticide Action Network
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EPA stands firm on worker safety rules

Margaret Reeves's picture
Farmworker in field

After 15 long years of research and public input, the Environmental Protection Agnecy (EPA) finalized urgently needed improvements to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) on September, 2015. With the political landscape now in flux, the agency is facing strong push-back from Big Ag representatives on these new farmworker protections.

We're pleased to report that so far, EPA is standing firm. Implementation of the new rules began as scheduled on January 2.

Healthy workers are productive workers

In pressing the agency to delay WPS implementation, the American Farm Bureau and state agriculture departments have argued that growers aren’t yet ready, that additional worker protection is too costly and that the changes are not needed. We think they couldn’t be more misguided.

EPA is the only federal agency charged with protecting the nation’s approximately two million farmworkers from exposure to hazardous pesticides. Exposures to pesticides routinely lead to both acute poisonings — resulting in respiratory problems, nervous system damage and severe skin rashes — as well as long-term effects such as various cancers, reproductive damage, and birth defects and learning disabilities among their children.

The new rules go a long way to protect the health of workers, and therefore benefit the farms on which they work. After all, a healthier workforce is a more productive workforce. Among the many increased protections, the new WPS provides:

  • More frequent safety training (annual instead of every five years)
  • Increased reporting of on-farm pesticide use
  • Disallowing children under 18 from handling pesticides

EFI shows worker protection pays

The Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) – a collaborative among growers, workers and retailers built over the past nine years — already brings EPA’s improved protections to over 16,000 farmworkers across North America. Eighteen large-scale farms are growing EFI-certified fresh produce, from strawberries and tomatoes to leafy greens and onions, ensuring compliance with EPA’s improved WPS.

EFI also requires such labor protections as freedom of association, prohibitions of worker harrasment, the right to paid breaks, full workers’ compensation coverage and compliance with the new Food Safety Modernization Act.

Why do growers and the retailers they supply participate in the EFI?  There are many reasons, but the bottom-line is “it pays to be EFI-certified.”

Major industry players including Costco Wholesale, Whole Foods Market and Bon Appetít Management Company recognize the greater assurances that EFI certification provides them, and they pay for the added value. Growers articipate in EFI not only because these major buyers help them do so, but because of other on-farm tangible benefits including:

  • A highly trained workforce empowered to identify and resolve on-farm problems ensuring continuous verification of the EFI Standards
  • On-farm leadership teams with the capacity and support to improve production processes and achieve greater efficiencies
  • Workers trained to recognize and avoid food safety threats deliver safer products to buyers

California EPA leads the way

Please join us in thanking EPA — and particularly Region 9 — for their leadership in developing the improved WPS, and for standing firm on implementation. California is home to the greatest number of farmworkers in the country, so WPS implementation here will serve as a good model for other states.

Of the eighteen EFI-certified farms, four (employing 9,680 workers) are located in California where they produce berries, brussels sprouts, leafy greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers. EFI-contracted farms from Mexico to Canada all must comply with the improved WPS, and are curently providing the new additional protections to over 16,000 workers.

While there seems to be little to celebrate with the pending leadership change in Washington D.C., we can and must support those agencies striving to do the right thing for workers in the last few weeks of the current administration. Please join us in tweeting to EPA headquarters and Region 9, saying thank you for finalizing and implementing the improved WPS and protecting farmworkers from pesticide exposures:

 

Margaret Reeves
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Margaret Reeves is a PAN Senior Scientist with expertise in agroecology and soil ecology. As a long-time farmworker advocate, Margaret serves on the Board of the Equitable Food Initiative and works with partners around the country to ensure worker-protective federal and state policy. Follow @MargaretatPAN