National Pesticide Safety Education Month: Five Tips for Safe Pesticide Use

Editor’s note: February is National Pesticide Safety Education Month, a time designated to reinforcing the importance of pesticide safety education by raising awareness of how to utilize pesticides safely and effectively. The following article was submitted by Rollins entomologist, Ian Williams.

Safe pesticide use is an important practice year-round and can be successfully implemented by remembering the following:

  • Professionalism: Know your products and their safety requirements
  • Protecting the environment: Ensuring minimal exposure to non-targets and keeping products out of environmental sensitive areas
  • Providing care for the pest management professionals (PMP) and customers: Understanding how to handle and apply pesticides in ways that protect yourself, co-workers, and the public.

Pesticides can be useful and valuable products in an integrated pest management (IPM) plan. However, they can quickly turn dangerous if not applied correctly or stored properly.

Here are five tips for safer pesticide usage:

1.)    Read the label and Safety Data Sheet (SDS) to understand the potential hazards when using pesticides: The purpose of product labels and SDS is to protect both the user and the environment, including customers and pets. It’s important to also read the SDS, which is a separate document, and may have safety recommendations beyond what the label states.

2.)    Wear the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to avoid injury: It’s important to wear protection such as long-sleeved shirts, gloves, masks and goggles to provide physical barriers to prevent the body from pesticide exposure.

  • If not used properly, two types of exposure can occur:
    • Acute exposure: Typically, a single event where a toxic amount of the product leads to severe consequences. The four routes of exposure are dermal (skin), inhalation (lungs), oral (mouth), and eyes.
    • Chronic exposure: Occurs from small doses of an active ingredient repeated over a longer period of time.   Some suspected chronic effects include birth defects, tumors, blood disorders, and nerve disorders.
  • All respirators are not created equal:
    • Be sure to fit test and document that each respirator you wear fits you specifically. Also, ensure you have the proper cartridges for the products you are using, and know how to clean and replace them.
    • Know the correct gloves to use.
      • Use the types of gloves that are rated for chemical usage and are crafted with the appropriate thickness as directed by labels.
  • PPE should be the last line of defense.
    • Using the hierarchy of control helps determine which action is the best choice for the situation. While PPE is considered an important tactic in exposure protection, there is a hierarchy to consider when determining best actions to control the exposure.
    • These five levels of actions are:
      • Elimination
      • Substitution
      • Engineering controls
      • Administrative controls
      • PPE
  • Use the least dangerous product to take care of pest issues. Less toxic products are great at eliminating or substituting hazards, and typically require less PPE. Two ways to determine the toxicity of the product are:
    • LD50:  LD stands for “lethal dose”. It measures the short-term poisoning potential of a material.
    • Signal words: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires these words on product labels. They describe the toxicity of a pesticide product. The key words used are:
      • DANGER: Product is the most toxic by at least one route of exposure. It may be corrosive, causing irreversible damage to the skin or eyes. Alternatively, it may be highly toxic if eaten, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled.
      • WARNING: Moderately toxic if eaten, absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or causes moderate eye or skin irritation
      • CAUTION: Lower in toxicity. If eaten, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled, can cause slight injury.

3. Practice with a spill kit BEFORE you actually need a spill kit: A spill in a customer’s yard or running down the road is not the time to Google “How to use a spill kit.” Practice using one hands-on so that everyone involved is familiar with the procedures, including proper post-spill cleaning.

4. Practice proper storage and disposal: Keep pesticides in locked, temperature-controlled rooms with proper ventilation. For service vehicles ensure all products are secured. Doing this will control access to products and avoid any legal or regulatory risks. Be sure to read and follow the label for proper disposal of products and pesticide containers.

5. When using flammable pesticides, it’s vital to protect the worker and the customer: Many pesticide products contain aerosols and oil-based propellants that are flammable. Improper use may cause a fire or explosion. It’s important to keep these products away from ignition sources such as pilot lights and electrical switches and have a plan to verify there are no ignition sources if these products are used.

Although these tips are helpful, your best defense is educating yourself and staff on best practices for pesticide usage.