Youth in Agriculture » Chemicals and Pesticides

Chemical spray
The EPA estimates that 10,000-20,000 physician-diagnosed pesticide poisonings occur each year among the approximately 3,380,000 agricultural workers in the United States.

If you are under 16, Child Labor Laws forbid you from handling certain classes and types of chemicals or pesticides; state laws may be even more stringent.

Do You Know... that chemicals and pesticides used in agriculture can be hazardous? Pesticides can be dangerous if you are working in fields that have been treated or sprayed with them or when handling and applying them. Pesticides can enter your body in many ways. Simple contact through skin and clothes is one of the main ways chemicals enter your body. Another way is through breathing mist, dust, fumes, or smoke containing pesticides and chemicals. You can even poison yourself if you don't wash your hands before eating. 

Employers have the primary responsibility for protecting the safety and health of their workers. Employees are responsible for following the safe work practices of their employers.

  • Be aware that chemicals may be on or in plants, soil, irrigation water, or air drifting from nearby applications.

  • Be aware that your employer must train you within six days of beginning work in areas where a chemical application is taking place. Training is required for all workers and handlers.

  • Be aware that your employer must notify you about areas where chemicals are applied so you can avoid exposure, including:

    • Pesticide product and its active ingredients.

    • The method of application.

    • The restricted entry interval (REI).

  • You can prevent pesticides from entering your body by:

    • Following directions and signs about keeping out of restricted areas.

    • Washing before eating, drinking, using chewing gum or tobacco, or using the toilet.

    • Wearing proper work clothes that protect your body from chemical residues.

    • Showering after work (including washing your hair) and putting on clean clothes.

    • Washing your work clothes separately from other clothing.

    • Washing immediately in clean water if pesticides are sprayed or spilled on you.

    • Not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands if they might be contaminated with chemicals.

  • Make sure you know where to wash off and be decontaminated if you are exposed. Your employer must provide an area where you can wash off.

  • Pesticides are classified for either general or restricted use. Anyone can use a pesticide labeled general, but those labeled restricted must be handled by a certified person. If you are under 16, you cannot handle any pesticides, pesticide containers, or decontaminating equipment.

  • Minimum protection when working with pesticides is long sleeves, long pants, shoes, and socks, rubber gloves, and splash-proof eye protection, regardless of the toxicity level of the pesticide.

Employers have the primary responsibility for protecting the safety and health of their workers. Employees are responsible for following the safe work practices of their employers.

Follow the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) including:

  • Some agricultural jobs are too dangerous for anyone under 16 to perform. No youth under 16 years of age may be employed at any time in any of these Hazardous Occupations in Agriculture (HO/A); including:

    Cropduster spraying field
    • HO/A #9, Handling or applying agricultural chemicals if the chemicals are classified under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act as Toxicity Category I - identified by the word "Danger" and/or "Poison" with skull and crossbones; or Toxicity Category II - identified by the word "Warning" on the label. (Handling includes cleaning or decontaminating equipment, disposing of or returning empty containers, or serving as a flagman for aircraft applying agricultural chemicals.)

    • HO/A #11, Transporting, transferring, moving, or applying anhydrous ammonia (dry fertilizer).

    • Some exemptions will apply.

Follow EPA and OSHA Standards including:

  • Employers must provide the following training as specified by the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA 170.130]:

  • Post warning signs to warn agricultural workers in advance about pesticide applications. Warning signs must be in English and either Spanish or an alternate language spoken by the workers.

    Pesticides Warning Sign
  • Restricted-Entry Interval (REIs): Employers must ensure that all employees abide by these intervals, which are found on the product label. REIs range from 12 to 48 hours. [EPA 170.112]

  • Notification: To prevent inadvertent exposure, employers are required to warn workers about pesticide-treated areas. Notification can be verbal or via signs. If highly toxic chemicals are used, notification must be both verbal and via signs. [EPA 170.224]

  • Decontamination: Employees must be provided with water for washing off splashed or spilled pesticides or for general washing when they are finished working. [EPA 170.150]

  • Medical Emergencies: In emergencies, employers are responsible for providing the following [EPA 170.160]:

    • The name and location of the nearest medical facility.

    • Transportation to a medical facility.

    • Information about the pesticide(s) involved in the accident.

  • PPE: Pesticide handlers must wear the personal protective equipment (PPE) specified on the pesticide container label. Employer's responsibilities include [EPA 170.112]:

    Spraying crops with chemicals
    • Providing PPE to each worker.

    • Cleaning and maintaining PPE.

    • Ensuring that each worker wears and uses PPE correctly.

    • Preventing heat stress if the work and PPE could cause it.

  • Implement a written program that meets the requirements of the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard to provide for worker training, warning labels, and access to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

  • Ensure that workers are protected against cadmium exposure as specified in 29 CFR 1910.1027, including providing PPE if necessary. Cadmium is an element found in phosphate fertilizers and the handling and application of such fertilizers may expose workers to unsafe levels of cadmium.

Consider implementing recommended safe work practices, including:

  • Develop a "safety first" attitude. Follow safe work practices all the time and set a good example for others.

    Warning label on Chemicals
  • Train all workers in emergency procedures and be able to recognize symptoms of chemical poisoning.

  • Develop an emergency plan and train workers what to do in case of a spill, fire, or other emergency.

Additional Information:

  • Pesticides: Health and Safety. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This page provides the Worker Protection Standard and recent amendments.
  • Agricultural Pesticide Protective Equipment. National Ag Safety Database, (August 1993). This bulletin provides information on personal protective equipment to prevent chemical exposure. 
  • Personal Protection from Pesticides. National Ag Safety Database, (April 2002). This bulletin gives information on ppe, preparation and pesticide standards.
  • Safely Handling Pesticides. Agsafe, National Ag Safety Database, (April 2002). This document provides tips on storing, handling, mixing and applying pesticides safely.
  • Respiratory Protection in Agriculture. National Ag Safety Database, (April 2002). Discusses types of respiratory protection, safety, and hazardous sources that could require respiratory protection.
  • Pesticide Illness & Injury Surveillance. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Provides case definitions, reports, articles, and presentations on acute occupational pesticide-related cases.
  • The San Luis Obispo County Farmworker Survey. California Department of Health Services, (December 2002). A farmworker survey evaluating pesticide worker safety standards and assessing improving worker safety and health.