Federal agencies Agriculture, forestry and fishing Workplace exposures

EPA extends provision in respirator guidance for agricultural pesticides

Photo: mladenbalinovac/iStockphoto

Washington — Citing “continued concerns regarding personal protective equipment shortages in the agricultural sector,” the Environmental Protection Agency has extended until Sept. 30 the provision on “annual fit test delay” in temporary guidance intended to help protect workers who handle agricultural pesticides against exposure to COVID-19.

In June, EPA issued the guidance for handlers and employers facing shortages of filtering facepiece respirators and challenges related to fit testing. The guidance included 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). This provision initially was set to last through 2020.

The remainder of the guidance remains “valid and unrevised,” EPA says.

Before deciding to delay annual fit testing, however, the agency recommends handlers and employers first consider the following options after assessing their situation:

  • 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, the agency provides the following 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

Last on the list is “delay the annual respirator fit test.”

EPA says it will “assess the continued need for and scope of the temporary guidance on a regular basis.”

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