Personal Protective Equipment

PPE for Pesticide Application

Tom, a pesticide applicator in California, is planning to spray lime sulfur to control powdery mildew in nectarines. He checks the Precautionary Statements on the pesticide label and sees that there are specific items of protective clothing required.

Read also - Pesticide Safety Tips

According to the label, he must wear coveralls, chemical-resistant gloves, chemical-resistant footwear plus socks, goggles or a face shield, chemical-resistant headgear for overhead application, and a chemical-resistant apron if mixing, loading, or cleaning equipment or spills.

As you can see from this example, most product labels specify personal protective equipment (PPE) required for pesticide application.

As in the example, pesticide labels may require chemical-resistant PPE. But what exactly does that mean?

Chemical-resistant means that during the entire handling period, there is no measurable amount of the pesticide that moves through the material. Chemical resistant materials protect your skin from exposure to pesticides. The lining of your PPE should be made of nonabsorbent material to prevent pesticide contamination.

Note that not all PPE is chemical-resistant. Some PPE may just be waterproof and others only water-resistant. Waterproof or liquid-proof PPE are usually made of plastic or rubber. Liquid beads up, and waterproof material keeps water-soluble materials out.

However, it may not be sufficient to keep out oil solvent-based products and therefore it is not necessarily chemical-resistant.

Water-resistant PPE protects even less. It can keep only a small amount of water-based spray from penetrating clothing and reaching skin.

Once it gets saturated, water and pesticides can move through.

But back to chemical-resistant materials. The best choices are polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, rubber--such as butyl, nitrile, neoprene, Viton, or natural rubber-- or nonwoven fabrics (spun bond olefin) coated with plastic or other barrier material like Tyvek. Cotton, leather, canvas, and other absorbent materials are not chemical-resistant, even if you are working with dry formulations.

The pesticide label won't always state what PPE materials are resistant to the product. For gloves, it may list a letter code developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) to help the user select a proper material or it may simply list the recommended material. It's also important to stress that some PPE items are disposable, designed to be worn once and thrown away. Disposable PPE is inexpensive and lightweight and good for some pesticide handling activities.

However, it is important to mention that not all disposable PPE is chemical-resistant or even waterproof. Make sure to carefully check the PPE information from the manufacturer. In California, when using pesticides with signal words of either DANGER or WARNING, wear coveralls even if the label doesn't state it.

List of PPE

When selecting coveralls, make sure they are made of sturdy material such as Tyvek or laminated Tyvek. The level of protection that chemical-resistant coveralls offer depends on the fabric and design features. Some have flaps over zippers, others elastic at the wrists and ankles, and others with seams that are bound and sealed. Coveralls designed this way make it harder for pesticides to get through and provide more protection for your clothing and skin. Wear coveralls over a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and socks.

Coveralls should fit loosely over regular work clothes, so that there is a protective layer of air between the coveralls, work clothes, and skin which makes it harder for pesticides to contact your body.

After putting on a coverall, make sure the opening is sealed securely so that the entire body is covered except for feet, hands, neck, and head. Some coveralls have attached hoods. If the hood is not being used, tuck it inside the neckline so that it doesn't get pesticides on it.

The most likely areas of the body to get exposed to pesticides while handling them are your hands and forearms. That is why wearing chemical-resistant gloves is essential. When used properly, wearing gloves reduces pesticide exposure to your hands by 99%!

There are many types of chemical-resistant gloves available. There are gloves made from natural rubber, butyl, nitrile, or neoprene. Others are PVC, Viton, laminate, and polyethylene.

Glove types are not easy to identify by just looking at them. They do not usually come with any identifying information on the actual glove. The best way to identify gloves is by looking at the product specifications when you buy them.

Then label them with a permanent marker so that you don't forget what they are when you wear them.

Do not wear leather or fabric gloves. They will absorb water and pesticides. However, if you are working with thorny vegetation that may puncture a chemical-resistant glove, leather gloves can be worn over a chemical-resistant glove, but then those leather gloves can only ever be used for that specific purpose and never again on bare hands.

Make sure the gloves are unlined. Linings are often made of fabrics such as cotton or flock that can absorb pesticides. Always check the pesticide label for specific situations. For example, some fumigants may require cotton gloves be worn even though cotton is not usually recommended. Fumigant gas can get trapped between skin and the chemical-resistant material, and cotton would allow the gas to dissipate and not harm your skin.

Remember, chemical resistant gloves are required in California even when they are not specifically listed on the pesticide label.

Besides the type of material, the thickness is also important when choosing gloves. The thicker the glove, the more protection it provides. For most chemical-resistant glove materials, thickness of 14 mils or more are required. Two exceptions are barrier laminate and polyethylene. No thickness is specified for these two materials.

However, polyethylene gloves of less than 14 mils are usually not rugged enough to withstand use for pesticide applications and tend to tear easily. Laminate, on the other hand, is usually strong enough for pesticide applicator use. For high dexterity tasks such as repairing a spray nozzle, disposable gloves that are less than 14 mils thick can be worn, but for no longer than 15 minutes.

Some labels might give you examples of what gloves to wear. Others may give you a category letter so you can select the right glove for your specific situation. DPR has developed a glove code key that you can keep in your wallet for quick reference. The materials listed on the right are all chemical-resistant.

Natural refers to natural rubber. It is best that gloves are long enough to reach the mid-forearm. In most cases, wear the sleeves of protective clothing on the outside of the gloves so that pesticides don't run down from the sleeves into the glove. However, for spraying overhead, tuck the sleeve intothe glove. Caution! Be careful that pesticides don't run into the glove when you lower your arm.

To insulate the hands from the cold or to absorb perspiration, wear woven, removable and disposable glove liners if not prohibited by the pesticide label. Be sure to dispose of them at the end of the day or dispose immediately if they become contaminated with any pesticide.

Socks and close-toed shoes are required when handling pesticides. Some labels will specify waterproof boots or boot coverings, and others may specify chemical-resistant boots. Boots made of rubber or synthetic materials such as PVC, nitrile, neoprene, or butyl are best. Canvas and leather shoes can absorb pesticides so are not suitable but are still allowed unless the label specifies waterproof or chemical-resistant.

When choosing boots, choose a sole pattern that is slip-proof on wet surfaces, that cleans easily, and does not collect mud. Be sure to wear clean cotton or wool socks to absorb perspiration. Be sure to wear the legs of your protective pants outside of the boots and not tucked in so that pesticides on your pants don't run down into the boot. If needed, use rubber bands to seal pant legs tightly around the boots.

Eyes are sensitive and can easily be harmed by pesticides. In California, regulations require protective eyewear during most pesticide handling activities, even if the label does not specifically state it.

There are just a few situations where eye protection is not necessary. These are when the operator is in an enclosed cab, an applicator is wearing a full-face respirator, pesticides are being injected into the soil, pesticides are being applied through downward-directed vehicle-mounted spray nozzles that are located below and behind the operator, and vertebrate baits are applied to burrows with equipment that keeps people from touching the material. However, even if not required by the label or regulation, it is always best to use eye protection as a precaution.

The three main types of protective eyewear are goggles, a face shield, and safety glasses.

Some pesticide labels specify what type of eye protection is required. Others do not. If eyewear is not explicitly stated on the label, wear safety glasses. They conform to the curvature of your face and have front, side, and brow protection.

Regular glasses are not compliant. They are not impact resistant. According to the California Code of Regulations (Section 6738.2 (d)), protective eyewear must not interfere with the fit and function of prescription lenses, and prescription lenses must not interfere with the fit and function of the protective eyewear.

If you wear contact lenses, check with your doctor before handling pesticides, as many contact lenses can absorb pesticide vapors.

However, contact lenses can be worn with tight-fitting full-face respirators which are described in a separate section. If prescription lenses are needed, consider prescription safety glasses or goggles that can be worn over glasses.

Protective eyewear must show evidence of compliance with the American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices. This is usually shown with raised lettering on the eyewear.

All compliant eye protection will have, at the minimum "Z87" designated either on the lens, temple of glasses or goggles, or the face shield and marked in such a way as to be permanent.

Goggles should be indirectly vented or unvented so that pesticides cannot enter. There should not be any padding on the goggles because the padding could absorb pesticides. Place goggles over your eyes and move the strap over your head.

The strap holds them in place. If the strap is made of elastic, it could contain fabric that absorbs pesticide which could increase your exposure to pesticide on the back of the head. Wear a hood or protective headgear over the strap with such goggles. Neoprene or synthetic rubber straps are safer to use.

Face shields can provide eye protection and can prevent liquids from splashing onto your face especially during mixing and loading. If used, wear them with additional eye protection during application because airborne dusts or sprays can float in around the edges of the face shield.

If you do get pesticides in your eyes, immediately flush them with a gentle stream of clean, running water. Hold eyelids open to assure thorough flushing. Continue flushing for at least fifteen minutes.

One thing to note is that when a pesticide label requires protective eyewear, the California Code of Regulations requires that you must also keep 1 pint of water or eye wash with you at all times. It can be carried on you if protected from pesticide exposure or be next to you in an enclosed cab or aircraft. Having that nearby can make all the difference if pesticide accidentally gets into your eyes during an application and you are not near a source of running water.

Wearing protective eyewear on top of your head while applying pesticides does NOT protect your eyes and is a violation of PPE requirements! Always wear eye protection the way it is intended.

In situations where there may be high amounts of airborne particles and a risk of overhead exposure, wear chemical-resistant headgear to protect your head and neck. Choose hats with nonabsorbent material such as plastic safari hats with plastic sweatbands. Chemical-resistant wide-brimmed hats or hoods work well.

Many chemical-resistant jackets or coveralls come with attached protective hoods.

Respirators are important to wear in situations where pesticides can potentially be inhaled. If the label, or other regulations, or the employer require a respirator, the pesticide handler must be evaluated by a physician and deemed medically fit before using it.

If a respirator is used voluntarily, the handler does not usually need to be medically examined unless wearing a cartridge respirator supplied by the employer. Respirators must fit properly and must seal tightly around the face.

Pesticide handlers who have facial hair that interferes with the seal of the mask to the face cannot wear tight-fitting respirators. However, a small mustache or sideburns may be allowed if they don't interfere with the seal.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is the federal agency responsible for testing and certifying respirators. They assign approval numbers beginning with the letters TC to all respirators.

Pesticide manufacturers use criteria approved by the US EPA to assign respirator requirements on labels.

There are two main types of respirators: air-supplying and air-purifying.

Air-supplying respirators provide clean, uncontaminated air from an outside source. These are used mainly in areas being fumigated or other low-oxygen environments. They use pressurized tanks, such as a self-contained breathing apparatus or large hoses to move air to a full-face mask as in supplied-air respirators.

Air-purifying respirators use physical and chemical filters to trap and remove contaminants as they pass through the respirator so that the wearer's exposure to contaminants in the air is reduced.

These respirators can be powered or non-powered.

The simplest type of air-purifying respirator is a disposable filtering facepiece. These are generally listed on the label as NIOSH number TC-84A.

When wearing a filtering facepiece, hold it in place with the two elastic straps. The soft metal bands at the top edge can be pushed so that they conform to the bridge of your nose for a good seal.

Sometimes a cartridge respirator is required. These respirators remove low levels of pesticide vapors, dusts, and mists but cannot be used as protection against fumigants. These are generally listed on the label as NIOSH number TC-23C or a TC-84A if particulate prefilters are required in addition to the cartridge.

The label will reference an organic vapor (OV) cartridge or another type of cartridge specific to the contaminant that is being filtered. Cartridges are color-coded based on that contaminant.

For example, organic vapor cartridges always have a black band. Particulate filters (either filtering facepieces, or pre filters that attach to chemical cartridges) are classified on the basis of oil degradation resistance.

The classification levels for oil degradation resistance are:

  • N - not oil resistant,
  • R - oil resistant,
  • P - oil proof
Follow the label requirements as to NRP.

Note that for the purposes of respirator selection, solvents are not usually considered to be oils.

Cartridge respirators have a fitted rubber face piece with a two-stage cartridge filter. Inhaled air passes through the cartridge filter but the valve prevents exhaled air from exiting through the same filters. Prefilters trap airborne particles.

A chemical cartridge absorbs gases. Chemical cartridge respirators come in both half-face mask or full-face mask styles. Be sure to wear eye protection when using any respirator, except a full- face respirator since it meets the requirements of the American National Standards Institute.

The rubber face piece fits to the face and straps over the head. A trained individual must perform a fit test on each employee required to wear a tight-fitting respirator at least once a year. Also, each time a respirator is used, perform a user seal check. Perform a negative pressure check by holding your hands or small plastic bags over the cartridges and inhale to check for leaks. Perform a positive pressure check by covering the exhalation valve and gently exhaling to check for leaks.

Powered air-purifying respirators force filtered air through a hose to a hood, helmet, or face mask. They are good for long application jobs.

Always check respirators for wear and damage before and after each use.

Check all the headbands to make sure they aren't frayed or damaged. Remove the filters and replace gaskets if they are broken.

Make sure all valve and cartridge parts are in good condition.

Make sure there are no scratches or cuts on the face piece, and replace if there are.

A respirator must be worn correctly to be effective.

Having it just around the neck will not protect you from possible inhalation of the pesticide vapor, and it is a violation of the law!

Workers using label-required respirators must pass a fit test conducted by a trained individual. Skipping this step is also a violation of the law.

Sometimes chemical-resistant suits or aprons are required. Chemical-resistant suits are made of rubber or plastic, and can make you very warm. Even if the label doesn't require it, you might still consider wearing one if there is a possibility of a large amount of pesticide being deposited on your clothing over a long period of time. If you need to wear a chemical-resistant suit during a pesticide application, you cannot apply the pesticide if the daytime temperature is over 80 degrees Fahrenheit or if the night temperature is above 85 degrees F. This restriction, however, can be avoided by using cooling vests, air conditioned cabs, other engineering environmental temperature controls, or use of a closed system.

A chemical-resistant apron will protect from splashes, spills, and dusts and protects coveralls or other clothes.

Consider wearing this when mixing and loading. Choose one that extends from the neck to your knees. Some aprons have sleeves and gloves attached to protect your arms, hands, and the front of the body by eliminating gaps where sleeves and gloves or sleeves and the apron meet.

Remember, PPE is designed to protect you from pesticide exposure. But the right type must be selected and worn correctly for you to get the maximum protection!

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