COVID-19 pandemic: EPA issues respirator guidance for agricultural pesticide handlers
Washington — In response to reported shortages of filtering facepiece respirators and declining availability of fit testing, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued temporary guidance intended to help protect workers who handle agricultural pesticides against exposure to COVID-19.
When N95 or other respirators are unavailable, EPA recommends handlers and their employers assess the situation and consider the following options:
- Use other NIOSH-approved respirators that offer equivalent or greater respiratory protection than those required on the pesticide label.
- Hire commercial applicator services with sufficient respirators and respiratory protection capabilities.
- Opt to use agricultural pesticide products that don’t require respirators, or delay pesticide applications until another compliant option is available.
Should these options be exhausted, EPA offers alternative strategies – listed in the preferred order – consistent with OSHA guidance:
- Reuse or extended use of disposable N95 respirators
- Use of respirators beyond their recommended service life
- Use of respirators that have been certified in certain countries or jurisdictions
If fit testing is unavailable, EPA recommends delaying the annual fit test outright or delaying the test for handlers who previously were tested for a different respirator (via use of an equivalent respirator).
“EPA will, on a case-by-case basis, exercise its enforcement discretion for violations of respirator-related requirements of the [Worker Protection Standard] and pesticide product labeling requirements … provided that handlers and handler employers demonstrate that they have exhausted all available compliance options,” the agency states.