Policy Factsheet

Limiting Pesticide Exposure in Workers

Reasons for Policy

  • In the U.S., over 16,000 pesticide products are marketed and approximately 1 billion pounds of pesticide active ingredient are used annually.1
  • It is estimated that 10,000-20,000 physician-diagnosed pesticide poisonings occur each year among the approximately 2 million U.S. agricultural workers.1
  • Among all occupational poisonings, it is estimated that between 20,000 and 40,000 poisonings may occur each year.2
  • The health effects of pesticide exposure depend on the type of pesticide, some affect the nervous system, some are carcinogens, some may irritate the skin and eyes and others affect the endocrine system.3

Community Groups

  • Federal Government
  • Local Businesses
  • Local Government
  • State Health or Environmental Agency

Policy Components

  • Pesticide handling safety training
  • Applicator training and licensure
  • Mixing, loading, or application interventions
  • Field re-entry restrictions
  • Use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and isolation techniques
  • Bio-monitoring programs (Cholinesterase testing)

Desired Outcomes

  • Reduction in pesticide exposure
  • Reduction in pesticide poisonings

Level of Evidence Available to Evaluate Effectiveness of Policy

For all policies we describe on this website, we have applied the Standards of Evidence as defined by Flay et al. (2005) in the Standards of Evidence document published by Prevention Science.

The effectiveness level of this policy is 2: Policies with Consistent Evidence from High-Quality Observational Studies.

The levels of effectiveness as noted are:

  1. meets criteria for policy effectiveness (consistent, positive outcomes from at least two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental trials using a comparison group or interrupted time series design);
  2. consistent evidence available linking policy with positive outcomes from high-quality observational studies only;
  3. insufficient evidence available for policy or policy components.

Achievable Results

On average, use of appropriate PPE and different mixing and application procedures, as opposed to open pouring and dumping can achieve:

  • Reductions in pesticide exposure under controlled conditions.2

Note: No studies examined the effects of prevention programs on pesticide poisonings. Many of the studies had a small number of subjects. Further research with larger experimental or quasi-experimental studies is needed.

Community Examples

California Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment overseas a cholinesterase monitoring program.

Colorado State University has a Colorado Environmental Pesticide Education Program and the Colorado Department of Agriculture administers the Pesticide Applicator Program

Links to Policy Examples

California Food and Agricultural Code, D. 7, Ch.2, Art. 10.5, Pesticides and Worker Safety

California Code of Regulations, 3 CCR § 6728 Medical Supervision

Colorado Revised Statutes, Title 35, Article 10. Pesticide Applicator’s Act

Note: Most states regulate pesticide use through the state’s agricultural agency and follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s Worker Protection Standard for Agricultural Pesticides. See * 40 C.F.R Part 170 Worker Protection Standard.

† Be sure to check with your state, county, and municipal governments regarding potential existing laws that may impede any new policy development. ‡Local governments and organizations may check existing state and federal statutes and administrative codes for the authority to implement local policies.


1National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NIOSH Safety and Health Topic: Pesticide Illness and Injury Surveillance. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Retrieved February 3, 2011, from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/pesticides/.

2 Keifer, MC (2000). Effectiveness of Interventions in Reducing Pesticide Overexposure and Poisonings. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 18(4S), 80-89.

3 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pesticides: Health and Safety, Human Health Issues. Retrieved February 3, 2011, from http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/health/human.htm.

4 Flay, BR, Biglan, A, Boruch, RF, Ganzalez Castro, F, Gottfredson, D, Kellam, S, Moscicki, EK, Schinke, S, Valentine, JC, & Ji, P (2005). Standards of evidence: Criteria for efficacy, effectiveness and dissemination. Prevention Science, 6(3), 151-175.