10 tips that will make you a pesticide safety pro

If you work in lawn care or landscaping, pesticides and other chemicals are probably just a part of life. Insecticides, herbicides, fungicides – you name it, you use it. But these chemicals can be very harmful if they’re not handled and stored properly. If you work with pesticides or other chemicals, you need to be safe so you can reduce your chances of exposure.

There are four different types of exposure:

  • Getting it on your skin: Can lead to dermatitis (irritation of the skin)
  • Swallowing: Can damage the digestive system and enter the bloodstream
  • Inhaling: Can cause inflammation of the lungs
  • Getting it in your eyes: Can lead to visual impairment

Remember, these chemicals are intended to kill living things. That means that they need to be used with caution. Follow these tips to become a pesticide safety pro.

1. Read the label.

Yes, you might have to squint a little to read the tiny print, but make sure that you read the label of any pesticide or chemical before using it.

Take note of the following things from the label of the product:

  • Application instructions: The label will tell you how to apply the pesticide properly, and this will reduce your chances of exposure. Chemical residue is very sneaky and can be tracked indoors and fly on the wind, where it can contaminate indoor air.
  • First-aid information: The label may give you guidance for what to do in case of accidental poisoning.
  • Personal Protective Equipment recommendations/requirements: The label will tell you what gear you need to wear to protect yourself.
  • Storage and disposal information: Pesticides and herbicides need to be stored safely and disposed of properly.

2. Don your PPE.

PPE, or personal protective equipment, is a must for working with pesticides or herbicides. The EPA even mandates that all pesticides are labeled, and the label will have information about how toxic the product is. It will also give a recommendation for PPE. Heed the label and wear the right clothing. PPE is made of a chemical-resistant material, which is meant to keep chemicals from seeping through to your skin for a certain amount of time. It’s not chemical-proof (no fabric can be) but it’ll provide protection.

It's important to wear the right PPE while working with pesticide.

Your PPE outfit might include…

  • Coveralls
    • The manufacturer might specify them as being resistant to certain chemicals.
    • Some are reusable, some are meant to be disposed of after one use.
  • Gloves
    • Thicker gloves may offer a longer protection time.
    • Waterproof does not mean chemical resistant.
    • Don’t use cotton, leather, or canvas gloves unless the label recommends them.
  • Boots/Footwear
    • Boots are usually made of a natural rubber and coated in a chemical-resistant substance.
    • Boot or shoe covers might be usable with certain chemicals – read the label.
    • Keep your footwear at work to avoid bringing the pesticides home with you.
  • Hats or hoods
  • Eye protection
  • Respirator (if necessary)
    • Must be approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH.)

So, there you go – your ensemble!

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3. Store your PPE properly.

To keep your PPE from contaminating your street clothes and your work place…

  • Don’t store your PPE with other chemicals: The goal is to limit your exposure to chemicals. Keep your PPE in a place where it won’t get contaminated.
  • Keep your personal clothing away from your PPE: You don’t want your street clothes to get covered with chemicals from being heaped with your PPE. Make sure that you keep your clothes away from pesticides, chemicals, or areas where it could get residue on it.
  • Take care when stashing your PPE during your lunch break: If you have a break during the day, make sure that you’re putting your PPE in a spot where it won’t contaminate the work area, clean PPE, or personal items.

4. Check your clothes and PPE for rips or tears.

To avoid accidental exposure to pesticides and other harmful chemicals that you might use at work, make sure that your clothing doesn’t have any holes in it. It can’t do its job if it’s torn.

Make sure your store your PPE properly.

5. Take note of the wind.

If there are strong winds (more than 10 mph) you should hold off on spraying chemicals. The pesticide will just end up getting carried away on the breeze, which won’t really help the grass and will expose people to the chemicals unnecessarily. Your coworkers could also be in the line of fire – err, wind.

6. Don’t multitask.

Eating, smoking, drinking, and using the restroom might have to wait until you’re finished applying the chemicals and you’ve cleaned up. You don’t want to accidentally ingest the chemical because you have residue on your hands.

7. Know how to handle a spill.

If the chemical spills, use kitty litter or sawdust to soak it up. Then sweep it into a plastic bag and follow the appropriate disposal protocol.

8. Clean up properly.

To clean up, follow the instructions on the label. You’ll need to rinse your tools and equipment thoroughly. Keep in mind that the pesticide may have settled onto your clothing (and you,) so you’ll need to wash up carefully. Assume that your PPE and clothing has been contaminated and remove it before leaving the job site. Put your clothing in a plastic bag and wash it separately from your other clothes.

Your boots, gloves, and goggles also have to be cleaned and stored safely.

9. Store chemicals smart.

You need to take care with how you store your chemicals. Keep the pesticide or herbicide in its original, manufacturer container. Store them in designated areas only.

10. Dispose of chemicals with caution.

Read the label for disposal instructions. Don’t just assume that you can toss it or pour it. Improper handling of pesticides is not good for the environment and causes fire and health hazards.

Make sure to dispose of the pesticide properly.

Take care when using pesticides and herbicides. Always use your PPE. Apply, store, and dispose of chemicals properly. Don’t skip reading the label and ask questions about anything that you’re not clear about. Protect your health and avoid accidental exposure to pesticides by following the safety tips above.

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