The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS), 40 C.F.R. Part 170, requires agricultural employers and handler employers to ensure that agricultural workers and pesticide handlers have received WPS pesticide safety training within the last 12 months before they perform certain tasks using agricultural pesticides. However, EPA has recognized that public health restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic may cause difficulties in providing WPS pesticide safety training, obtaining the services of qualified trainers, and hiring agricultural workers and pesticide handlers who have received training within the last 12 months. Understanding that these difficulties could negatively impact agricultural production and threaten the nation’s food supply, EPA issued guidance on some of the flexibilities offered by the WPS that may help agricultural employers, handler employers, and trainers facilitate WPS pesticide safety training during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the newly issued guidance, EPA continues to encourage in-person training if workplace protections to maintain a healthy work environment are able to be implemented (e.g., providing training outside, in small groups with well-spaced participants). However, the WPS also allows remote WPS pesticide safety training of agricultural workers and pesticide handlers as long as all training requirements are met. Agricultural employers and handler employers are responsible for ensuring compliance the following requirements:
- Trainer must be qualified and use EPA-approved training materials.
- Training is provided in an environment reasonably free from distractions and conducive to training, given in a manner that trainees can understand, and presented with audiovisuals or read from written materials, in its entirety, and conducted by a trainer who is present and can respond to trainees’ questions.
- A training record is created or obtained for each trainee and kept for two years.
To help achieve effective remote WPS pesticide safety training, EPA made the following recommendations:
- Agricultural employers and handler employers should be present to monitor the attendance and participation of trainees.
- Trainers should periodically pause during training sessions to engage trainees with questions and gauge participation.
- Someone should be present who can troubleshoot if the remote training technology or tools fail.
- The chosen technology should be conducive to training for the size of the audience, the location of the trainees, and the training materials used.
- The technology and devices available to trainees should be taken into consideration (e.g., if trainees do not have reliable access to Internet, smartphones, or computers, trainers should provide ample opportunities for questions during and after the presentation).
The guidance can be found on EPA’s website here.