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Agricultural Worker Health Project

A Project of California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF)

Generous funding provided by The California Endowment

Many agricultural operations rely heavily on pesticide use.  Pesticides are substances used to kill insects, weeds, plant diseases, and other pests of crop plants.  However, these same substances can make you very sick and cause you and your family harm if you are exposed to them.  There are many different types of pesticides, and some are more dangerous than others.  Immediate symptoms of pesticide exposure can include dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, breathing problems, skin rashes, eye irritation, confusion, vomiting, diarrhea, and in extreme cases, death.  Delayed health problems include cancer, birth defects, reproductive health problems, memory loss, and other effects on the nervous system.

There are ways that you can protect yourself and your family against pesticide exposure, and it is important to understand how pesticides can affect you, as well as your legal rights in the workplace.  Pesticides enter the body through the mouth, nose, eyes, and skin.  Workers can help protect themselves from pesticide exposure by wearing clothing that covers the body, washing hands frequently at work (especially before eating), and by not entering areas treated with pesticides until sufficient time has passed.  The law requires that the perimeter of fields treated with certain pesticides be posted with a sign informing people when it is safe to re-enter. Workers should never enter areas that contain these postings, even if their employer or foreman requires them to do so. For all other pesticides, employers must tell workers whenever a field is unsafe to enter.  It is illegal to require workers to enter treated fields too soon.

Strawberry workers eating lunch. Photo by David Bacon.

Workers have a right to know what pesticides are being applied in their worksite, and employers are required by law to provide this information to workers who request it.  Employers are also required to provide training to pesticide applicators and people who work in areas treated by pesticides, and must provide protective equipment to workers working with or around certain pesticides.  It is also against the law for employers to retaliate against workers who complain about unsafe pesticide use, exposure or other violations.  Workers can help reduce pesticide exposure to family members by removing work clothing before entering the home, showering right away, and by washing work clothes separate from other family laundry.

AWHP advocates frequently educate workers about the dangers of pesticides and ways to protect themselves. AWHP advocates provide training to community leaders to help them become trainers on this topic in their communities.  AWHP attorneys sometimes represent workers in court who have challenged government regulations that do not sufficiently protect workers and surrounding communities from pesticide exposure.  For example, in 2007 AWHP attorneys won a court order that forced the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to stop using “Declarations of Emergency” to sidestep important pesticide protections.

Lemon picker. Photo by David Bacon.

AWHP advocates monitor pesticide use and postings in agricultural fields and notify local County Agricultural Commissioners of problems. CRLAF successfully advocated for the passage of Senate Bill 391, which requires counties to develop appropriate local emergency response plans when pesticides drift into community areas, and requires growers and pesticide applicators to pay any immediate medical expenses of victims of pesticide drift (including ambulance costs) not payed by insurance.  Since 2006, AWHP advocates have been working with local jurisdictions and agencies to successfully implement this law.


Links and Resources

National Pesticide Practice Skills Guidelines for Medical & Nursing Practice

Pesticide Resource Library

Reporting Pesticide Problems

AOEC Pesticide Illness Curriculum

Farm Worker Pesticide Project

Pesticide Resources for Health Care Providers 

Accessing California pesticide laws, regulations, state enforcement guidelines, and county pesticide records

Riesgos y Derechos Sobre Pesticidas (Spanish) -- Pesticide risks and rights

Pesticide Safety Rules For Farmworkers in English

Pesticide Safety Rules For Farmworkers in Spanish

Tractores Agricolas - Industriales

Safety Rules For Pesticide Handlers on Farms in English

Safety Rules For Pesticide Handlers on Farms in Spanish

CAUSE -- Central Coast Alliance United for Sustainable Economy

Central Coast Environmental Health Project

CPR -- Californians for Pesticide Reform

Panna -- Pesticide Action Network North America

A California Coalition for Worker Occupational Safety and Health Protection

LOHP -- Labor Occupational Health Program


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