June 18, 2020

Agencies Publish Guidance on Agricultural Worker Protection During the Pandemic

Guidance from OSHA, CDC, and EPA issued earlier this month includes recommendations and requirements for protecting agricultural workers and employees who handle pesticides during the COVID-19 pandemic. Joint interim guidance from OSHA and CDC addresses prevention and control of the spread of COVID-19 at agriculture work sites, where workers often share housing and transportation vehicles and have close contact to one another in fields and indoors. Shortages of personal protective equipment in the agricultural sector led EPA to issue separate temporary guidance regarding respiratory protection requirements for pesticide handlers.

The CDC/OSHA guidance urges agricultural employers to screen and monitor workers for coronavirus symptoms, limit close contact among workers and others if possible, encourage hand hygiene, develop protocols for cleaning and sanitation of work sites, and conduct targeted and more frequent cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch areas. Employers should also train workers on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and proper infection control and social distancing practices. The interim guidance is posted in full on CDC’s website.

Separate temporary guidance published by EPA addresses the limited availability of respiratory protection options for pesticide handlers in the agricultural sector. Increased demand for respirators to protect healthcare workers, fit-testing service closures, and supply chain issues have affected the availability of PPE, fit testing, and chemicals required for respirator fit testing. EPA’s guidance, published June 1, describes approaches to address the shortage of required respiratory protection and fit testing. These options include using other NIOSH-approved respirators that offer equivalent or greater respiratory protection than those required on the pesticide label; hiring commercial applicator services with enough respirators and respiratory protection capabilities; opting to use agricultural pesticide products that do not require respirators; or delaying pesticide applications until another compliant option is available.

Once these options are exhausted, alternatives such as the reuse and extended use of disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirators and the use of respirators beyond their recommended service life may be considered. EPA’s temporary guidance includes requirements accompanying these alternative options that are intended to minimize risks to workers.

Health and safety steps for other specific occupations are available from CDC’s website.