FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press contacts: Preston Peck, Toxic Free NC – (919) 833-1123, email@example.com
Strengthened Federal Worker Protection Standard Applauded in North Carolina, but Focus Now Turns to Enforcement
RALEIGH, NC, October 12, 2015. The amended Worker Protection Standard (WPS)--the set of agricultural worker safety requirements overseen by the EPA--includes strengthened and new provisions intended to further protect farmworkers and pesticide applicators from exposure to pesticides. These new rules establish a minimum age of 18 for pesticide handlers; increases the frequency of worker safety training from once every five years to every year; improves the content and quality of worker safety trainings; provides new rules on decontamination and personal protective equipment; and improves the quality of information that workers receive about the pesticides that have been applied at their workplace.
“These provisions are a strong step forward toward protecting North Carolina’s farmworkers and their families from the detrimental effects of pesticides,” said Preston Peck, Policy Advocate with Toxic Free NC. “However, we will now be turning our focus towards the EPA and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture to ensure that this standard is effectively implemented and enforced”.
North Carolina’s Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN), a coalition that advocates for farmworkers’ rights, played a strong role in the development of these provisions through collecting dozens of statements from farmworkers and others in the state who provide direct services to them during the EPA’s public comment period to ensure that farmworkers’ voices were heard by regulatory agencies. In April 2014, the coalition facilitated an in-person listening session at the annual NC Farmworker Institute with key EPA staff to hear directly from workers about their experiences with pesticides and their opinions about the proposed changes.
“It was crucial to let farmworkers have a say in the updates to the laws that affect them daily,” says Nadeen Bir, Advocacy and Organizing Director at Student Action with Farmworkers. “FAN will continue our conversations with farmworkers to determine how the improved standard is actually being implemented.”
Some provisions that FAN wanted in the new WPS, such as medical monitoring, were absent from the final provisions released on Monday. They say that they now wish to partner with the EPA and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture to ensure that the new rules are implemented swiftly and that there is strong enforcement of the safety standard. Farmworkers have been on the front lines of occupational exposure to pesticides for decades, and many have suffered acute and chronic symptoms from close contact with toxic pesticides in the fields. It has taken more than 20 years for the Worker Protection Standard to be updated and revised, but farmworkers, advocates, health providers and residents of rural communities hope that EPA’s improved rule leads to real improvements in workplace safety for agricultural workers.