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Farmworkers embrace revisions to Worker Protection Standard

Georgia farmworkers may be pleased to hear that the Environmental Protection Agency has announced plans to propose changes to the Worker Protection Standard, which stipulates minimal protections against pesticide exposure in the workplace for farmworkers. This follows a federal Office of Management and Budget review, and the proposal is expected to be published for public comment in February.

A farmworker coalition, public health agencies and other organization have been urging the EPA to improve protections for farmworkers for quite some time. It has been more than 20 years since the regulations were updated, and the agency has acknowledged that the standards are not sufficient for more than 10 years. With this announcement, farmworkers want the EPA to update regulations for safety precautions that limit pesticide contact, improve safety training requirements and provide a way to enhance the enforcement of the regulations.

The 1 million to 2 million farmworkers in the United States are estimated to apply 1.1 billion pounds of pesticide to crops every year, and they face the highest risk of suffering from health problems due to the chemicals. It is estimated that 10,000 to 20,000 acute pesticide poisonings occur among agricultural workers each year. Short-term exposure to pesticides may cause headaches, nausea, stinging eyes, respiratory problems, blisters, rashes and death. The effect of long-term exposure includes an increased risk of serious chronic health issues, including birth defects, Parkinson's disease, cancer and neurological impairments. These health problems may also affect the workers' families.

Victims of workplace illnesses or injuries have a right to claim workers' compensation insurance to recover their medical costs. Georgia law requires every employer, association, firm, individual and corporation to provide workers' compensation coverage when they have three or more workers.

Source: Wisconsin Gazette , "Farmworkers welcome planned changes to protection standards", January 30, 2014

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