By: Alex Bellotti, Yuma ESD
During produce months in Arizona, we see an abundance of farm labor contractors (FLC). Many are migratory companies that follow the produce seasons between Salinas, California and Yuma. A few are based in Arizona and stay here year-round, finding other work to perform during the spring, summer and fall. We inspect labor contractor crews to ensure they are in compliance with WPS just as we would inspect a grower. When we find violations during an inspection of labor contractors, a case is generated for non-compliance with the Worker Protection Standards or WPS.
As the company or farm who hires them, growers and/or shippers are also held responsible for any violations we find while inspecting a labor contractor on one of their fields. Hired FLC are considered an extension of those who hire them. Therefore they must ensure the FLC they hire complies with WPS.
A grower or shipper should get proof of pesticide safety training for workers from the labor contractor they hire. This is the most common issue we run into when conducting an inspection; employees who have not received pesticide safety training.
Sometimes, FLC’s based in California will assume they are in compliance with Arizona pesticide safety requirements because their employees have received California pesticide safety training. Arizona and California do not have the same requirements for pesticide safety training and each state’s training are not recognized by the other.
When we as inspectors happen upon this situation, we treat those employees as “Untrained Workers”. This inevitably leads to a case being opened against the labor contractor for failing to provide Arizona-specific pesticide safety training to their employees and the grower or shipper (whoever hired the labor contractor).
Other requirements a grower/shipper should ensure are in compliance are the labor contractor’s decontamination supplies and required postings.Decontamination supplies required by WPS during harvesting/thinning/weeding activities include, water in enough quantity for the size of the crew; one gallon per worker, water should be of adequate temperature and quality; no more than 500 PPM of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) or impurities, soap for the hand wash station in enough quantity for the size of the crew and single use towels for the hand wash station in enough quantity for the size of the crew.
Required postings to comply with WPS include the EPA Pesticide Safety poster. It should be placed in view of the hand wash station and have emergency medical facility information and the AZDA Pesticide Hotline number written in their proper spots, a “Grower List” showing the physical address for the different grower’s central posting locations (No P.O. Boxes!) and if the labor contractor sends their workers to other cities, they must also list the emergency medical providers in those other cities. This can be added as a separate attachment. Often times we find this attachment in the foreman’s binder, which is perfectly acceptable.
One of the least heard from, but extremely important, requirements is ensuring a crew is not sent in to work in a field that is still under Restricted Entry Interval or REI. An REI is the amount of time people not wearing adequate PPE must stay out of a field after it has been treated with a pesticide. Restricted Entry Intervals can range from as low as four hours to several days. All Ag-Use pesticides have a REI listed on the label. Even if the pesticide label calls for 0 hours REI; a minimum of four hours must be observed before any unprotected employee enters the field.
This requirement is one of the most closely observed by labor contractors, growers and shippers. Nobody wants to send a crew in to work a field and have everybody become ill due to pesticide exposure.
Most agricultural employers take their compliance measures and employee safety seriously. But accidents can and do happen. Communication between the grower/shipper and labor contractors is essential to help prevent any accidents of this nature from happening.
The key here is “due diligence”, if a grower or shipper who hires an FLC has a system of in-house inspections and it is documented, this will show the department that they are doing their part in making sure FLC’s are in compliance. The AZDA understands employers cannot be with the FLC every hour of everyday, but they are responsible for them and checking on them will go a long way during an investigation of a violation(s).