Agriculture - Use of pesticides/plant protection products

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Algimantas Mieldazys, Ramunas Mieldazys, Gediminas Vilkevicius Aleksandras Stulginskis University Lithuania


Pesticides are chemicals designed to kill or control insects, weeds, fungi, rodents and microbes. Many pesticides have been found to be harmful to human and animal health or to the environment. As pesticides are used in many different sectors (e.g. agriculture, forestry, food industry, etc.) they may put workers in different occupations at risk of acute poisoning or occupational diseases [1]. This article gives a short introduction on pesticide classification, labelling and information system, presents information on related health problems, description of how exposure may take place and requirements for safe handling of pesticides with the emphasis on agricultural production.

General information about pesticides/plant protection products

Definition of pesticides

Agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, food industry, processing, transportation and storage of wood and other biological products are sectors where various pests (e.g. weeds, insects, birds, rodents, fungi, moulds, etc.) may considerably influence quantity and quality of produce. Certain species of pests can also damage buildings, installations, furniture, cloths, etc., spread infectious or cause other diseases. Therefore pest control is an important activity intended to reduce or eliminate yield losses, maintain high quality of products and prevent other undesirable effects that may be caused by pests.

Pest control is implemented by physical, chemical and biological methods and choice of the particular method depends on various conditions (sort of industry, species, amount and distribution of pests, environmental conditions, etc.). The most effective methods of pest control are based on the use of chemicals named ‘pesticides’. The largest users of pesticides are agriculture and forestry. Pesticides are also widely used in different industries, trade, storage and other sectors of economic activity and household. Proper application of pesticides ensure good results for the produce protection and quality improvement, for saving labour expenditures and achievement of substantial economic benefit. [2] [3]

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) presents following definition of pesticides:

Pesticide means any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying or controlling any pest, including vectors of human or animal disease, unwanted species of plants or animals causing harm during or otherwise interfering with the production, processing, storage, transport or marketing of food, agricultural commodities, wood and wood products or animal feedstuffs, or substances which may be administered to animals for the control of insects, arachnids or other pests in or on their bodies. The term includes substances intended for use as a plant growth regulator, defoliant, desiccant or agent for thinning fruit or preventing the premature fall of fruit, and substances applied to crops either before or after harvest to protect the commodity from deterioration during storage and transport’. [4]

Classification of pesticides

In general groups of pesticides are classified and named according to the type of pest they control (Table 1).

Table 1: Classification of pesticides based on their purpose

Classification of pesticides based on their purpose.png

Source: EPA [5]

Most pesticides listed in Table 1 are used in agriculture for one of the following purposes:

  • Protecting plants or plant products against all harmful organisms (e.g. fungicides, insecticides, molluscicides, nematicides, rodenticides).
  • Influencing the life processes of plants (e.g. PGRs).
  • Preserving plant products (e.g. fumigants).
  • Destroying undesired plants or parts of plants (e.g. defoliants).
  • Checking or preventing undesired growth of plants (e.g. herbicides). [6] [7]

These purposes may be briefly defined as plant protection and pesticides intended to use for these purposes compose a large group named plant protection products (PPP).

Pesticides are also classified in accordance to how or when they work:

  • Direct contact with the pest (usually living on the outside of the plant). It is important to treat all parts of the plant including the underside of the leaves.
  • Systemic action when pesticide is absorbed by the plant and acts only after a plant part is consumed by the pest (usually living inside the leaf, stem or root).
  • Broad spectrum for various pests (non-selective pesticides). Mostly these pesticides also damage the beneficial organisms.
  • Against specific pests (selective pesticides).
  • Curative pesticides stop the damage once started.
  • Preventive pesticides stop the damage before it starts. [8]

Pesticides can be grouped into chemical families. Pesticides with similar chemical structures have similar characteristics and usually a similar mode of action. Insecticides include following main chemical families: organochlorines (removed from the market due to their high toxicity), organophosphates, carbamates, pyrethroids [7]. Typical chemical families of herbicides are following: phenoxy herbicides, benzoic acid herbicides, triazines, ureas [9]. Substitution of chemical compounds is possible using so-called biopesticides. There are three major classes of biopesticides: microbial pesticides, plant-incorporated-protectants (PIPs), biochemical pesticides [7]. The active ingredients of pesticides are mixed with other compounds to improve their effectiveness, safety, handling and storage, such as solvents, mineral clays, stickers, wetting agents, or other adjuvant materials. This mixture is called ‘pesticide formulation’. Pesticide formulations can be divided into three main types: solids, liquids or gases. [8]

Use of plant protection products in the EU

Finding reliable statistical data on the overall use of pesticides in EU is complicated due to lack of information. Therefore only some statistical data on the use of plant protection products in the Europe are presented. These data are collected by EUROSTAT and the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA). The last report from EUROSTAT on the use of PPPs in the European Union was produced in co-operation with ECPA in 2007. The report included detailed data on EU-15 from 1992 to 2003 and for the first time data on EU-10 from 2000 to 2003 (for the four years preceding their accession to the EU in 2004). Separate data of the use of PPP in each EU country were also presented. Amount of used PPP was reported by ECPA as tonnes of active substances for the main PPP categories (fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, and plant growth regulators). According to the change in the methodology of data collection the category 'other PPP' was introduced in 1997. [10]

The total amount of PPP used in EU-15 exceeded 200000 tones and increased continuously in the 1990s. Consumption of fungicides was almost three times higher than herbicides, insecticides and plant growth regulators together made about 5% of the total amount of PPP. The use of PPP stabilized in the end of the decade and then started declining from 1999 with continuous decrease of amount of fungicides and growth of amount of herbicides. The use of insecticides, plant growth regulators and other PPP was almost at the same level from 1997. Meanwhile the consumption of PPP in EU-10 was about 2000 tones, slightly increased during the period from 2000 to 2003 and in contrast to EU-15 the use of fungicides was almost three times less than herbicides. Insecticides and plant growth regulators together made about 5% of the total amount of PPP used in EU-10. In 2003 five countries together accounted for nearly 75% of the total amount of plant protection products used in EU-25. France alone accounted for 28%, Spain and Italy 14% each, Germany 11% and the United Kingdom 7%. [10]

Currently data presented by EUROSTAT are not complete and does not cover all EU Member States [11]. ECPA collects data from all its members but its membership does not cover some EU-12 states and covers some non EU countries. Consequently presenting reliable data on the use of PPP in EU-28 is complicated. ECPA‘s data on EU-15 show that the use of PPP in these countries was at the same level from 2003 to 2008 and suffered decrease of about 20% during following two years. Data for 2011 are not yet presented by ECPA. [12]

Placing pesticides on the market

Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures (CLP) substantially modified Directives 67/548/EEC and 1999/45/EC and replaced them from 1 June 2015. The Regulation adopts the UN Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) criteria in all EU Member States and intends to ‘ensure a high level of protection of human health and the environment as well as the free movement of chemical substances, mixtures and certain specific articles’ [13]. Many provisions of CLP are closely related to the provisions of Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) [14]. The approximation of EU and national legislation on the criteria for classification and labelling of substances and mixtures and implementation of this legislation is a keystone for the achievement of the CLP objectives. Pesticides (including PPPs) fall under the scope of CLP and therefore should be classified by their hazards, suitably packed and labelled before placing them on the market. This requirement is also supported by the relevant provisions of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market and of Regulation (EC) No. 547/2011 concerning labelling requirements for plant protection products.[6] [13] [15]

Basics of pesticides classification by hazard

Classification according to CLP is based on the specific basic hazardous properties of a substance determined by standard tests or other means designed to identify hazards [14]. The main characteristic of pesticides as hazardous substances is their toxicity. It depends on the chemical and physical properties of pesticides and defines these substances as poisonous or harmful to animals or plants. The toxicity of pesticides to humans varies in a very wide range and can be acute, sub-chronic or chronic. [1] [8]

Acute toxicity of a pesticide is its ability to cause harmful health disorders which develop rapidly (in a few seconds, minutes, hours or a day) after absorption of a single dose or repeated exposure over a short time (e.g. one day). Such an accident may occur e.g. during mixing or applying pesticides and exposures may be referred to as acute dermal, oral or inhalation poisoning and also eye or skin irritation, skin sensitization and neurotoxicity. Estimation of the acute toxicity of pesticide is generally based on the standard test results on rats and other animals. [1] [8]

Pesticides are classified by the acute oral and dermal toxicity using the estimated respective lethal dose LD50 (the pesticide dose that is required to kill half of the tested animals when entering the body by oral or dermal route). Currently widely used the World Health Organisation (WHO) Recommended Classification of Pesticides by Hazard suggests allocating pesticides to the specific WHO Hazard Classes. After revision in 2009 these Classes were harmonised with the GHS Acute Toxicity Hazard Categories (see Table 2). [16]

Table 2: Acute toxicity of pesticides according to WHO classification

Acute toxicity of pesticides according to WHO classification.png

Source: WHO [16]

The WHO presents a series of tables with individual pesticides classified according to the oral or dermal toxicity. [16]

The ability of a pesticide to cause adverse health effects after long-term or repeated exposure to a pesticide (e.g. when operator is frequently wetted with a pesticide spray during its application) is sub-chronic toxicity (term from few weeks to few months) or chronic toxicity (term from few months to years). Pesticides which tend to accumulate or break down slowly in human organism usually are of the greatest chronic exposure hazard. Estimation of the sub-chronic and chronic toxicity of a pesticide is based on a number of different long-term tests (periods ranging from 30 to 90 days for the sub-chronic and about 90 days to several years for the chronic toxicity) performed on animals in order to predict long-term effects which may be cause by a pesticide [1] [8]. Such effects include:

When there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans pesticides are additionally classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) [1] [17] Hazardous effects of pesticides determined from human experience are also suitable for the purpose of classification for health hazards. When data from both humans and animals are available their quality and reliability should be evaluated [13].

In pursuance of presentation of the basic toxicological and other relevant information on individual pesticides essential for their safe use the Pesticide Data Sheets (PDSs) are issued. PDSs are prepared by the WHO in collaboration with the FAO and are presented on the website of the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) name INCHEM. [18]

Suppliers duties to ensure information

Manufacturer, importer or downstream user (natural or legal person who is not the manufacturer or the importer and who uses a substance either on its own or in a mixture in the course of his industrial or professional activities) of pesticides is obliged to classify, label and package them according to CLP before placing on the market. Pesticides already classified according to Directive 1999/45/EC and Directive 67/548/EEC should be also classified according to the CLP criteria and their labels, Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and in some cases their packaging should be changed. Distributor of pesticides is obliged to ensure their labelling and packaging in accordance with CLP before placing them on the market. A transition period for CLP implementation is given until 1 June 2015. From 1 December 2010 until this date pesticides should be classified in accordance with both Directive 67/548/EEC and CLP. They should be labelled and packaged in accordance with CLP only. [13]

Classification by hazards

The CLP Regulation includes the following health hazard classes and categories:

  • Acute toxicity (Category 1, 2, 3 and 4).
  • Skin corrosion/irritation (Category 1A, 1B, 1C and 2).
  • Serious eye damage/eye irritation (Category 1 and 2).
  • Respiratory or skin sensitisation (Category 1).
  • Germ cell mutagenicity (Category 1A, 1B and 2).
  • Carcinogenicity (Category 1A, 1B and 2).
  • Reproductive toxicity (Category 1A, 1B and 2) plus additional category for effects on or via lactation.
  • Specific target organ toxicity (STOT) – single exposure ((Category 1, 2) and Category 3 for narcotic effects and respiratory tract irritation only).
  • Specific target organ toxicity (STOT) – repeated exposure (Category 1 and 2).
  • Aspiration hazard (Category 1). [14] [19]

If applicable, pesticides also should be classified by physical and environmental hazards. The great majority of the CLP hazard categories are adopted from GHS however a few categories are not included. Therefore this should be considered when pesticides are exported to other regions outside the EU. [14]

Hazard communication

Label of a pesticide is the most important source of information about a pesticide for all participants of the supply chain. Therefore according to CLP a pesticide contained in packaging should be obligatory equipped with a label including the following information (labelling elements)(more specific in Regulation 547/2011)[20]:

  • The name, address and telephone number of the supplier(s) of the pesticide.
  • The nominal quantity of the substance or mixture in the packages made available to the general public, unless this quantity is specified elsewhere on the package.
  • Product identifiers.
  • Hazard pictograms.
  • Signal words.
  • Hazard statements.
  • Appropriate precautionary statements.
  • Supplemental information. [13]

More specified requirements for pesticide labelling were developed and published by the FAO in the Guidelines on Good Labelling Practice for Pesticides (published in 1985 and revised in 1995) [21] Though the Guidelines currently are under revision, taking into account the GHS, their provisions on suggested supplemental information of the label and recommendations on writing and shaping a label are very practicable. Suggested safety precautions must cover the following:

  • Requirement of reading the safety instructions before opening the pack.
  • Product specific advice.
  • Good agricultural practice.
  • Relevant protective clothing.
  • Precautions when handling the concentrate (if applicable).
  • Precautions during and after application.
  • Environmental safety during and after application.
  • Safe storage.
  • Safe disposal of product and used container.
  • How to clean equipment (if a potential risk exists).
  • First aid and medical advice, where relevant. [21]

The FAO provides several other Technical Guidelines for the implementation of the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide management. [22]

General CLP requirements are that the labels must be firmly fixed to one or more surfaces of the packaging containing the pesticide and should be readable horizontally when the package is set down normally. The labelling elements themselves (particularly the hazard pictograms) should stand out clearly from the background and should be of such size and spacing that it would be easy to read them. A fixed label is not required when the labelling elements are shown clearly on the packaging itself. [23]

Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is another key element of the hazard communication. The supplier of a pesticide (manufacturer, importer or downstream user) must provide the recipient of the pesticide with a SDS prepared in accordance with the REACH requirements. The SDS is not required when a pesticide is offered or sold to the general public and the users are provided with sufficient safety information, unless requested by a downstream user or distributor. [24]

Information in the pesticide SDS (obligatory dated) should be presented using the following headings:

  1. Identification of the substance/preparation and of the company/undertaking.
  2. Hazards identification.
  3. Composition/information on ingredients.
  4. First-aid measures.
  5. Fire-fighting measures.
  6. Accidental release measures.
  7. Handling and storage.
  8. Exposure controls/personal protection.
  9. Physical and chemical properties.
  10. Stability and reactivity.
  11. Toxicological information.
  12. Ecological information.
  13. Disposal considerations.
  14. Transport information.
  15. Regulatory information.
  16. Other information. [24]

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Germany developed the PAN international list of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs). In 2013/2014 the PAN International Working Group on “HHP criteria” revised the criteria used in this list to identify highly hazardous pesticides. The 2014 version of the list is based on the new list of hazard criteria adopted by PAN International in June 2014. The publication presents a PAN description of HHPs by identifying the hazard indicators and a list of HHPs based on these indicators. The PAN list of highly hazardous pesticides provides a basis for starting and implementing elimination of such pesticides. [25]

Occupational exposure limits

Occupational exposure limit (OEL) value means the limit of the time-weighted average of the concentration of a chemical agent in the air within the breathing zone of a worker in relation to a specified reference period [26]. Requirement of establishing OELs has been introduced into EU legislation by Directive 80/1107/EEC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents at work in pursuance to help employers to control exposure to dangerous substances in the workplace [27]. General principles for preventing risks at work related to the use of chemical agents and the legal framework for indicative occupational exposure limit values (IOELV), binding occupational exposure limit values (BOELV) and binding biological limit values (BBLV) was set out by Directive 98/24/EC (amended by Directive 2014/27/EU in accordance to align the Directive to Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 [23]) on the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents at work [26].

Scientific recommendations on occupational exposure limit values (OELVs) for chemicals in the workplace are prepared by the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limit Values (SCOEL) and approved by the European Commission. SCOEL recommendations provide standards or criteria for the risk assessment and management when chemical exposure in existing workplaces occurs. They may also be used for design purposes to ensure that exposures in new workplaces can be controlled at levels which will not damage health. [28]

For any chemical for which an IOELV, a BOELV or a BBLV is established at the EU level each Member State must establish a national OELV, taking into account the EU limit value and determining its nature in accordance with national legislation and practice. National BOELV and BBLV should be based on, but not exceeding the EU limit values. [26] [27]

For practical reasons OELs are established in relation to a working time. Time Weighted Average (TWA) OEL is the average exposure to a chemical to which workers may be exposed without adverse effect over a period such of 8 hours day or 40 hours week and for a working lifetime and is expressed in units of ppm or mg/m3. [29]

When TWA OEL alone does not provide sufficient control of adverse health effects (immediate or delayed) the SCOEL may recommend the establishment of a Short-Term Exposure Limit (STEL). The STEL is a limit value above which exposure to a chemical substance should not occur and usually relates to a 15 minute reference period. Ceiling Exposure Limits (CELs) are used for substances for which short-term exposure peaks could result in serious health effects and should not be exceeded during any part of the working exposure. [29]

A skin notation should be assigned to some OELs in order to warn about of the possible significant dermal absorption. Recent practice of SCOEL is that data on a chemical for its toxicokinetics, acute toxicity, irritation and corrosivity, sensitisation, repeated dose toxicity, genotoxicity, carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity are evaluated and SCOEL recommendation is produced. [29]

The first set of IOELVs was introduced by Directive 91/322/EEC in 1991. To date three lists of IOELVs were adopted (by Directives 2000/39/CE, 2006/15/CE and 2009/161/CE). Alphabetic list of consolidated IOELVs and SCOEL recommendations for individual chemical substances are presented on the SCOEL webpage. Member States are obliged to introduce national OELs based on Directives. [28]

OELVs and SCOEL recommendations for individual chemical substances are a practicable source of OSH related information on hazardous substances (including pesticides) and provide employers with an effective tool for occupational risk assessment and management.

Occupational exposure to pesticides

Occupational exposure to PPPs generally is attributed to operators applying PPPs and workers entering a treated area however also there are other groups of persons who may be under a non-dietary exposure to PPPs. All non-dietary exposure groups may be defined as follows:

  • Operators are either professionals (e.g. farmers, contract applicators) or amateur users (e.g. home garden users) directly involved in activities related to the application of a PPPs.
  • Workers are persons who during their work enter an area treated with a PPP or handle a crop treated with a PPP.
  • Bystanders are persons entering in or being close to the area where PPP application or treatment is in process or has recently been completed and their position might lead them to be exposed to PPP.
  • Residents are persons living, working or attending school or any other institution close to an area that is or has been treated with a PPP and their position might lead them to be exposed to PPP. Residents may be in such location even for 24 hours per day. [30]

Evidently, operators should be considered the group that will be at the greatest exposure due to the nature of following activities related to the use of PPPs:

  • Opening containers, weighing, mixing and loading the product into the application machinery.
  • Operation of the application machinery.
  • Repair of the application machinery whilst it contains a PPP.
  • Emptying and cleaning the machinery and containers after use and residue disposal.

Exposure to PPPs can also occur from spills of chemicals, leakages or faulty spraying equipment. [1]

PPPs are developed and should be used under very strict regulations. In turn, suppliers are obliged to provide users with all necessary information on PPP and user instructions of their safe use (see chapter 3.2). Neglecting user instructions is the main cause of the increase in operators and workers exposure [1].

Factors which most of all may affect exposure during working with PPPs are following:

  • The form of formulation. Liquids may splash and spill resulting in direct skin contact or indirect skin contact through clothing contamination. Solids may generate dust during loading product into the application equipment, resulting in the face and the eyes exposure and respiratory hazards.
  • Depending on the type and size of packaging in combination with the pesticide formulation opening the bags can result in some kind of exposure (splash of liquids or spread of dust).
  • Weather conditions. Low relative humidity and high temperature cause more rapid evaporation of spray droplets between the spray nozzle and the target and this vapour may reach the operator. These factors also influence the perspiration rate of the human body and operators’ decision to use or no the personal protective equipment. Wind increases spray drifts and results in operators extra exposure to a PPP and contamination of areas near the treated field.
  • The frequency and duration of PPPs handling both on a seasonal and lifetime basis considerably affects the exposure. [1]

There are three routes in which PPP may enter the body:

  • Dermal (absorption through the skin or eyes).
  • Oral (swallowing).
  • Respiratory (inhalation). [8]

Dermal exposure. Skin absorption is the most common route of operator’s poisoning from PPPs. The process will continue as long as the chemical remains in contact with the skin. Skin contamination may occur due to a splash, spill or drift when mixing, loading or applying a pesticide and contact with residue on application equipment, protective clothing or treated surfaces. Besides, it is very easy to transfer PPP residues from one part of the body to another. PPPs of liquid formulations are absorbed more readily than those formulated as powders, dusts or granules. When handling concentrated PPPs hazard from skin absorption increases. [8]

Each part of the body has different rate of dermal absorption. The relative absorption rate of the particular body part may be determined by comparing its absorption rate with the forearm absorption rate which is equal 1.0. It is true to say that the most vulnerable body parts are the genital area (11.8), ear canal (5.4), forehead (4.2) and the scalp (3.7) and for a very high rate the absorption of a pesticide is even more dangerous than swallowing it. Absorption through wounded skin is particularly hazardous. [8]

Oral exposure. The most severe poisoning generally occurs when PPPs are taken in through the mouth. Chemicals may be ingested accidentally or intentionally. The most frequent accidental oral exposure is related to the keeping PPP in an unlabelled bottle or food container instead of its original labelled container. People may be poisoned when drinking PPP from such bottle or by drinking water stored in contaminated container. Workers handling PPPs or application equipment can consume PPP residues from unwashed hands during eating or smoking. PPP may enter applicators mouth when trying to clear a spray line or nozzle by blowing. [8]

Respiratory exposure. Inhaled PPPs may cause serious damage to nose, throat and lung tissues or be transferred through the lungs into the bloodstream. Absorption of PPPs through lung tissues is very rapid and complete therefore hazard of poisoning from respiratory exposure is considerable. Respiratory tract may be exposed to PPPs by inhalation of powders, airborne droplets or vapours, namely:

  • The powder which usually contains concentrated active ingredient may be inhaled during opening containers, weighing and mixing operations.
  • Inhalation of PPP spray droplets during use of low pressure application equipment is fairly low because most droplets are too large to remain airborne. However, when high pressures or fogging equipment is used, the droplets are in the mist or fog size-range and can be carried on air currents for a large distance thus considerably increasing the potential for respiratory exposure.
  • Use of fumigants due to effectiveness of their toxic vapours for a pest control also has the highest hazard with respect to worker exposure to vapours. Some non-fumigant PPPs may also produce vapours being toxic to applicators or bystanders. The hazard is much higher in enclosed spaces with limited air movement (e.g. unventilated storage areas, greenhouses, etc.). Increasing temperature causes higher vapour levels therefore it is recommended that PPPs should not be applied when air temperatures are above 30°C. [8]

In order to determine the seriousness of the poisoning due to exposure to a PPP it is necessary to be aware of the pesticide poisoning symptoms. General symptoms indicating possible pesticide poisoning are following:

  • Mild poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, nervousness, loss of appetite, thirst, nausea, irritation of throat and nose, eye irritation, constriction of pupils, blurred vision, skin irritation, changes in mood, loss of weight.
  • Moderate poisoning: abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive salivation, constriction in throat and chest, abdominal cramps, rapid or slow pulse, excessive perspiration, trembling, muscle incoordination, mental confusion and any mild symptoms.
  • Severe poisoning: inability to breathe, chemical burns on skin, respiratory distress, loss of reflexes, uncontrollable muscle twitching, unconsciousness, convulsions and any mild or moderate symptoms.

Pesticide poisoning may be obvious when a person is exposed to very high levels of PPP concentration. However very often it is difficult to recognize pesticide poisoning because the symptoms may appear after some time only, be similar to those of other troubles (e.g. flu, cold, food poisoning, etc.) and vary from person to person. [8]

For the possible health effects related to exposure to PPPs see chapter 'Basics of pesticides classification by hazards'.

Prevention in work-place

In the case of use of plant pesticides specific requirements for preventing occupational accidents and ill health related to the presence of hazardous chemical substances at the workplace should be applied. Directive 98/24/EC [26] and related national OSH legislation oblige the employer first to determine whether any hazardous chemical agents (in the concrete case – PPPs) are or will be present at the workplace. It is obvious that application of PPPs causes such presence therefore the employer must assess any risk to the safety and health of workers arising from the presence of PPPs. Where the results of the assessment indicate a risk to the safety and health of operators and workers (see chapter 4) the specific prevention measures should be applied in order to manage the risk (to eliminate or reduce it to a minimum). Selection of the prevention measures should be done keeping their hierarchy [26].

Risk assessment

Risk assessment of the PPPs impact on human health is the most important step of the risk management when using PPPs. Simultaneously it is not an easy and particularly accurate process because of differences in the periods and the levels of exposure, type of PPPs (regarding toxicity), mixtures or cocktails used in the field, and the geographic and meteorological characteristics of the agricultural areas where PPPs are applied [31]. Therefore, in order to make easier this process, employers are urged to apply for PPPs a conventional scheme of risk management and existing tools of the risk assessment for dangerous substances (e.g. well-known tools are the International Chemical Control Toolkit of ILO, the British COSHH-Essentials, the German EMKG (Einfaches Massnahmenkonzept Gefahrstoffen) and the Dutch Stoffenmanager). Risk assessment should be done for each operation of PPPs use.

When assessing the risk it is particularly important taking into consideration the following:

  • Hazardous properties of PPPs (information is available in PDSs, the relevant label and SDS, SCOEL recommendations.
  • Information on safety and health that shall be provided by the supplier (e.g. the relevant label and SDS.
  • The level, type and duration of exposure.
  • The circumstances of work involving such agents, including their amount.
  • Any occupational exposure limit values or biological limit values established on the territory of the Member State in question.
  • The effect of preventive measures taken or to be taken.
  • Where available, the conclusions to be drawn from any health surveillance already undertaken. [26]

The total operator or worker exposure to PPPs is the sum of all exposures resulting during different working situations [32]. Besides, all exposure groups (operators, workers, bystanders and residents) should be considered.

After the risk assessment the next steps of the risk management (risk control, review and update of the process, and documentation of the process) are undertaken.

Preventing or adequately controlling exposure to PPPs involves a combination of following measures listed in order of priority

Measures at source

Measures at source may prevent the release of dangerous substances which are in PPPs, or reduce its release and dispersion as much as possible, or change the release in such a way that it is less harmful.

The best way to eliminate PPPs in the agricultural production is transforming the conventional farming into organic farming. Typical organic farming practices related to the use of PPPs include:

  • Strict limits on chemical synthetic pesticide use, livestock antibiotics, food additives and processing aids and other inputs.
  • Absolute prohibition of the use of genetically modified organisms.
  • Choosing plant and animal species that are resistant to disease and adapted to local conditions. [33]

Currently about 1% of the agricultural land in the world is organic while in the EU this number is 5.1 percent [34]. The substitution of PPPs may be accomplished through the replacement of hazardous substances by less hazardous or non-hazardous substances or technological or organisational measures ensuring achievement of an equivalent pest control results. There are different alternatives to PPPs including various methods of cultivation, use of biological pest controls (such as pheromones and microbial pesticides) and methods of interfering with insect breeding. The cultivation practices include growing multiple types of plants, crop rotation, planting crops in areas where the pests that damage them do not live, timing planting according to when pests will be least problematic, and use of the trap crops that attract pests away from the real crop. Release of other organisms that fight the pest is another alternative to the PPPs use. These organisms can include natural predators or parasites of the pests. One more alternative to PPPs is the thermal treatment of soil through steam. [9]

Some other alternatives to PPPs are to:

  • Choose plants resistant to insects and diseases.
  • Eliminate lost plants, which can be shelter to insects and diseases.
  • Make weed control before blossom.
  • Use physical controls such as traps, barriers, and mechanical removal.
  • Kill soft body insects (e.g. blight, grub) by spraying plants with insecticide soap.
  • Use natural insecticide like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
  • Eliminate food sources for pests.
  • Plant local origin plants.
  • Deliberate possibility to accept a few weeds, instead to pursue “perfect lawn”.
  • Use animals, like goats (especially for blackberry cleaning). [35]

The aforementioned measures may be considered as a part of initiative named the sustainable use of pesticides that means: to use only amounts of pesticides which are really necessary. Legal background of the sustainable use of pesticides is Directive 2009/128/EC establishing a framework for the Community action to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides. According to the Directive achievement of a sustainable use of pesticides should be implemented “by reducing the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment and promoting the use of integrated pest management and of alternative approaches or techniques such as non-chemical alternatives to pesticides” [36]. Mandatory actions for all Member States are establish national action plans, involving all the relevant stakeholders in the process and creating a system of awareness-raising and training of all professional users. Compulsory inspection of the existing application equipment is introduced and aerial spraying is prohibited. Member States also have to create the necessary conditions for implementing the Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which would become mandatory as of 2014 [37].

Requirements for the systematic production by Member States statistics on placing on the market and use of PPPs and transmitting it to EUROSTAT are defined by Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning statistics on pesticides [38].

Technical, engineering measures – machinery and equipment for plant protection product application

When measures at source cannot sufficiently reduce the release of dangerous substances, the technical measures for reducing dispersion of chemicals and consequently exposure of workers should be (additionally) considered. As the heaviest exposure occurs during handling of the pesticide concentrates, appropriate facilities must be provided.

According to Directive 2009/127/EC amending Directive 2006/42/EC with regard to machinery for pesticide application “Machinery for pesticide application” means machinery specifically intended for the application of PPPs within the meaning of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009. This machinery includes self-propelled, towed, vehicle-mounted, semi-mounted, airborne and stationary machinery intended for PPPs application, both for professional and non-professional use, as well as powered or manually-operated portable and handheld machinery with a pressure chamber. The Directive presents the essential design requirements with which machinery for PPPs application must comply before being placed on the market and/or put into service. The requirements concern ensuring the application control and monitoring, safe machinery filling, emptying and application of PPP (including application rate, distribution, deposition and drift of PPP, tests and losses during stoppage), proper machinery maintenance and inspections, and also the information which should be provided in the machinery instructions. [39] [40]

In order to enable manufacturers to comply with these requirements the European standardisation organisations are obliged for drawing up harmonised standards providing detailed specifications for aforementioned machinery [40]. Examples of such standards are: EN 13790-1:2003 Agricultural machinery - Sprayers - Inspection of sprayers in use - Part 1: Field crop sprayers and EN 13790-2:2003 Agricultural machinery - Sprayers - Inspection of sprayers in use - Part 2: Air-assisted sprayers for bush and tree crops.

Organisational measures

Organisational measures generally are not very strictly defined and may in fact include several types of measures.

Information and training of all workers is a particularly important measure for minimising exposure in the case of use of PPPs. Importance of information and training of workers exposed to chemical agents is emphasised by Directive 98/24/EC which obliges the employer to ensure that workers and/or their representatives should be provided with:

  • The data obtained from the assessment of risks related to use of chemicals (e.g. PPPs) and information on the change in these data after major alteration at the workplace.
  • Information on the hazardous chemical agents occurring in the workplace (the identity of the agents, the risks to safety and health, relevant occupational exposure limit values and other legislative provisions).
  • Training and information on appropriate measures and actions to be taken in order to safeguard themselves and other workers at the workplace.
  • Access to any safety data sheet available at the enterprise. [26]

According to Directive 2009/128/EC Member States must set up systems of both initial and additional training for distributors, advisors and professional users of PPPs and certification system. The latter is necessary to record such training so that those who use or will use pesticides are fully aware of the potential risks to human health and the environment and of the appropriate measures to reduce these risks [36]. Thus, the essential safety requirement is that persons can handle PPPs only if they have an appropriate certificate of competence. The type of certificate needed will depend on the used product and individual circumstances of the use. Persons who have no certificate of competence must be supervised by a person who has the necessary certificate and knowledge [41]. Besides, training activities for professional users of PPPs may be coordinated with those organised in the framework of Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005 [42].

Training workers for safe work practices on the basis of risk assessment also is an important part of risk management (see chapter 5.1). Trained workers will be aware of the risk of exposure and of what they need to do to control their exposure, therefore they will work not only more efficiently, but also more safely and with less risk to their health.

In most Member States there are prepared guidelines, recommendations or comprehensive, statutory codes of practice for using PPPs which may be helpful for the training purposes and help to comply with an appropriate legislation [43] (also see links for further reading).

Personal hygiene is extremely important when handling PPPs as may have a substantial impact on the workers exposure. General requirement is that during work workers should not touch their face or other bare skin with dirty hands or gloves. Persons working with PPPs have at least to wash face and hands before eating, drinking, smoking or going to the toilet. Special attention to personal hygiene must be paid during the aforementioned worker training.

Health surveillance means the monitoring of persons in order to identify changes (if any) in their health due to exposure to hazardous substances. The purpose of this preventive measure is to protect workers’ health by detecting at an early stage any harm which may be caused by the exposure. Therefore, according to Directive 98/24/EC Member States must introduce arrangements for carrying out appropriate health surveillance of workers for whom the results of the risk assessment reveal any risk to health arising from the presence of chemical agents. [26]

Risk assessment of the PPPs possible impact on human health should identify the need to check the health of employees who could be exposed to these PPPs. In turn the health surveillance helps employers to judge the effectiveness of risk assessment and its control measures.

Before applying preventive measures during the use of PPPs results of health surveillance should be taken into account where together:

  • The exposure of the worker to a PPP is such that an identifiable disease or adverse health effect may be related to the exposure.
  • There is a likelihood that the disease or effect may occur under the particular conditions of the worker's work.
  • The technique of investigation is of low risk to workers.

Where a binding biological limit value for a PPP has been set, health surveillance should be a compulsory requirement for work with this PPP. [26]

Arrangements should be made to ensure that any exposed person can easily report any symptoms to a medical officer or a supervisor, who will then bring the complaint to the attention of a medical officer. Any undue prevalence of illness not associated with well-recognized signs and symptoms of poisoning by the particular PPP should be noted and reported to the appropriate health authorities. Individual health and exposure records should be made and kept up-to-date for each worker who undergoes health surveillance. [26]

Other organizational or administrative measures can be used to reduce the exposure to PPPs such as:

  • Job rotation of workers.
  • Timing the job so that workers are fewer exposed.
  • Use of safety signs, for instance restricting entry of non-authorised persons (warning signs after the PPPs application in the field or storage).

Use of personal protective equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the least effective risk control measure providing a barrier between the worker and the hazard.

The personal protective equipment for the work with PPPs includes:

  • Head protection.
  • Eye and face protection.
  • Respiratory protection.
  • Protective gloves.
  • Protective clothes.
  • Protective footwear.

The main requirements for the use of PPE are following:

  • Protective equipment should be in a good condition and fit well.
  • Filter or cartridge should be changed at the specified time.
  • Gloves must be protective, fit the hands comfortably and be flexible enough to grip PPP containers firmly.
  • Gloves and boots should be washed before removal in order to avoid self-contamination.
  • The clothes should be resistant against the PPPs used and washable.
  • Garments should be washed separately from other clothes.
  • Protective clothing should be stored in a clean, dry and well-ventilated room separated from other clothing or living accommodation.
  • Contamination of work clothes through/by protective equipment should be avoided.
  • Personal protective equipment should be used even on a hot and humid day. [32]

Generally, the Safety Data Sheet of a PPP may be helpful in selecting the proper PPE.


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Links for further reading

EC – European Commission (2015). Pesticides. Retrieved 5 January. 2015, from : [43]

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Combined exposure to noise and ototoxic substances, literature review, European Risk Observatory, 2009. Available at: [44]

EU OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Exposure to carcinogens and work-related cancer: a review of assessment methods, 2014. Available at: [45]

EU OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Workplace risks affecting reproduction: from knowledge to action (2014). Retrieved 25 June 2015, from: [46]

HSE – Health and Safety Executive (no date). Pesticides. Retrieved 25 June 2015, from:[47]

HSE – Health and Safety Executive (no date). Code of practice for using plant protection products. Retrieved 25 June 2015, from: [48]

HSE – Health and Safety Executive, 'Guidance on storing pesticides for farmers and other professional users', HSE information sheet, 2012, pp. 1-4. Available at: []

HSE – Health and Safety Executive (no date). Using pesticides. Retrieved 25 June 2015, from: [49]

HSE – Health and Safety Executive (no date). COSHH Essentials – Health and Safety Executive UK. Retrieved 25 June 2015, from: [50]

WHO – World Health Organization, Preventing Health risks from the use of pesticides in Agriculture, 2001. Available at: [51]

WHO – World Health Organization (2015). Pesticides. Retrieved 1 June 2015, from : [52]

WHO – World Health Organization (2015). Human Health Risk Assessment Toolkit: Chemical Hazards. Retrieved 22 June 2015, from:[53]