Picking The Right PPE For Pesticide Exposure

While pesticides have very useful applications within a wide variety of settings, these chemicals can be quite harmful to humans. According to at least one 2007 systematic review of the literature published in the peer-reviewed journal Canadian Family Physician, there is data to support a positive correlation between pesticide exposure and cancer, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia. Other side effects include nausea, headaches, and skin irritation.

Given the potential serious consequences of pesticide exposure, employers must take appropriate precaution. Workplace practices need to be in place in order to reduce the risk of exposure and improve employee safety. Proper protection must be available for any personnel member who will be handling pesticides during the course of their occupational duties. 

Ideally, protective apparel and personal protective equipment (PPE) should be cost-effective, feasible, easy to use, comfortable, and effective. Workers must feel free to perform their work duties comfortably and efficiently while wearing their material, and employers should also be able to purchase the appropriate attire without sacrificing their financial bottom line. 

Understanding Your Risk Level When Working With Pesticides

To understand what type of protective garment is needed when using a certain type of pesticide, the first place to look is on the pesticide label itself. Here employers and employees can find useful and essential information, including pesticide ingredients, directions for use, and relative toxicity level.

Relative toxicity level will generally be noted by one of three possible "signal words." These signal words include:

  • Caution: slightly toxic; a lethal dose for a typical 150 lbs human ranges from 1 tablespoon to 1 pint
  • Warning: moderately toxic; a lethal dose for a typical 150 lbs human ranges from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon
  • Danger: highly toxic; a lethal dose for a typical 150 lbs human ranges from just a few drops to 1 teaspoon (often printed with a skull and cross bones and the word "Poison" on the label)

Note that lethal doses will be more or less depending on body size and age (e.g., lethal doses are much lower for children and people less than 150 lbs, but generally are greater for people weighing more than 150 lbs). 

In addition to these signal words, the pesticide label will also detail specific instructions that users of the product must follow in order to properly reduce their risk of exposure. Logically, the greater the toxicity level, the greater degree of PPE must be used. The specific type of PPE used also depends on the material with which the pesticide is made (e.g., powder, liquid, granule, and so on). 

Protecting Yourself Against Pesticides: The Role of Disposable PPE

Disposable PPE offers an effective and essential layer of protection between employees and the potentially harmful pesticides they are charged with handling, mixing, loading, and distributing.

The main role of PPE is to reduce the risk of accidental contact. Contact with pesticide chemicals can occur through four main means: 

  • Contact with the skin—up to 90% of exposure is believed to occur this way, according to occupational health and safety research
  • Contact with the eyes
  • Ingestion through the mouth
  • Inhalation

In order to avoid these means of exposure, appropriate PPE and apparel must be worn consistently and correctly during any and all handling of pesticides. As mentioned, the PPE must also be appropriate for the level of toxicity of the pesticide in question. 

Common PPE and protective garments used during pesticide handling include:

  • Chemical-resistant gloves (lined gloves, latex gloves, and cotton, leather, or canvas gloves do not provide adequate protection and in many cases can absorb the pesticides and remain difficult to clean)
  • Rubber boots (with or without boot or shoe covers; although these covers may add an extra layer of protection)
  • Long sleeves, long pants, closed-toe shoes, and buttoned-up shirts
  • Hooded gowns or jackets (especially important if spraying pesticides, since covering the head and neck is of utmost importance); these should be chemical and particle-resistant, liquid proof, and breathable to maximize effectiveness and comfort
  • Chemical resistant aprons 
  • Sleeve covers (these along with gown or shirt sleeves may be tucked into gloves or remain outside of gloves, pending company protocol or pesticide-specific instructions
  • Eye protection (goggles, masks) 
  • Respirators, face shields, or other types of airway protection
  • Appropriate disposable coveralls.

In addition to PPE, most workplace practices should include provisions on the degree of ventilation that must be present in the area of pesticide application. Any employees handling or distributing pesticides should also be reminded to use basic hand hygiene following the end of all pesticide-related activities and after the removal of their PPE. Hands should be thoroughly washed, and care should be taken to ensure all disposable garments are disposed of properly. 

The Benefits of Using Disposable PPE for Pesticide Handling

Disposable PPE and protective apparel comes with particular advantages for pesticide handling. One-time use eliminates the risk of build-up and recurrent exposure. The use of disposable apparel also helps protect other ancillary staff members (e.g., environmental services, housekeeping) and even the community-at-large by reducing the risk of pesticide tracking out of direct areas of use. Garments can be simply disposed of properly, instead of transported and laundered.

As a final word, all personnel who come in contact with pesticides should always refer to the pesticide label. The information printed here should provide staff with the necessary knowledge in order to optimize their safety and reduce their risk of accidental pesticide exposure.

Do you have questions about personal protective equipment for your employees who come in contact with pesticides? Talk to our team at International Enviroguard. We have a variety of disposable protective apparel that can fulfill your occupational safety and cost-effectiveness needs. We're proud to help employers find cost-effective solutions to keeping their employees safe, comfortable, efficient, and workflow compliant. Contact International Enviroguard today!