Personal protective equipment and clothing (PPE) needed to apply pesticides is listed on the pesticide label. The PPE listed is NOT a suggestion - it is the minimum amount of PPE that must be worn!
As the signal word on the pesticide label goes from CAUTION to WARNING to DANGER, across products, expect to see an increase in the amount of required PPE on the label. Labels with CAUTION will have the least protective PPE required, while DANGER labeled products may have the most protective PPE required.
Note also that the PPE can and will be different between products with the same signal word. This is because of the different hazards posed by individual pesticides. A pesticide that can injure the eyes (is corrosive, for instance), may require eye protection, where another pesticide may not. Another may require a face shield instead of eye goggles. The formulation of a product may also affect the listed PPE, especially the requirement for respiratory protection.
Agricultural use pesticides will provide the most detailed informtion on required PPE because of the EPA's Worker Protection Standard (WPS) PPE requirements. Because mix/loaders work with the product concentrate (formulated product), and because of the handling activities involved in mixing and loading pesticides, PPE requirements for them are often more rigorous than for applicators. Frequently this difference will be the addition of eye or full face protection, longer gloves, and a waterproof or chemical-resistant apron. In practice, an applicator may both mix/load and apply the pesticide him or herself. Because the mix/load PPE may be more protective than the applicator PPE, and because you may always wear more PPE than stated on the label, you may continue to wear more protective mix/load PPE to apply the pesticide if you wish, or you may change PPE between tasks.
It is possible to find up to three different kinds (sets) of PPE on an agricultural pesticide label. You will find PPE for WPS early-entry workers, and PPE for handlers (mix/loaders, applicators). Again, the PPE for mix/loaders may be more protective than the PPE for applicators, and so it may be listed separately.
A fourth set of PPE may sometimes be found on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the product. Under the Storage and Disposal section for some pesticides, PPE may be specified for cleaning up a spill in storage or elsewhere. This PPE may be similar, or identical to, the level of protection for mix/loaders. The equipment may be specified because the spilled product concentrate may have special characteristics. For instance, it may vaporize readily, be corrosive, etc. Consider that a pesticide product leaking or spilled in storage is a concentrated material that is out of control (out of the container) and in an enclosed space.
(The PPE for emergency first responders, cleanup crews and others also found on MSDSs may be even more protective. This is because these individuals must be prepared to face potentially large quantities of concentrate that may also be involved in a fire situation.)
In general, the PPE listed on many homeowner use pesticides will be significantly less protective than that for agricultural products. There are several reasons. First, most homeowner use pesticides are CAUTION labeled products, and so these products will have less protective PPE for that reason. Secondly, many of these products are ready-to-use (RTU) products that are premixed and don't require mixing (handling of product concentrate) by the home applicator. Additionally, the packaged quantities of these pesticides are small compared to virtually any agricultural or horticultural use packaged product. Also, some products come packaged in containers that the homeowner does not need to open to put into a sprayer, rather, the pesticide is packaged in a container that hooks up to a garden hose (hose-end sprayer), and when empty is discarded. Several lawn herbicide products are packaged in this fashion. These are spill proof, and the homeowner would be exposed to only the mixed (diluted out of the hose end) spray. However, once again, the PPE stated on the label is not just a suggestion, it MUST be worn!
Be sure to note carefully the PPE requirement on the label. There are significant differences between "waterproof" and "chemical-resistant" gloves. Similar and equally important differences occur when using respiratory equipment. One important and beneficial aspect of the WPS is that the PPE for agricultural (includes horticultural) pesticides is now stated much more precisely on the pesticide label. Instead of saying simply "Wear respiratory protection" as it used to say on agricultural pesticide labels in the past, now the label will say, for instance, "Applicators and other handlers (other than mixers and loaders) must wear: ... For exposures outdoors, dust/mist filtering resperator (MSHA/NIOSH approval number prefix TC-21C" For years these kinds of specific requirements were available in the industrial sector while agriculture was "exempted".
This increased information now on pesticide labels significantly increases your ability to protect yourself, and any of your employees or those you supervise. This protection is so important that this is the ONLY area where the WPS assigns dual responsibility: BOTH the applicator and the agricultural employer are responsible for having and wearing properly, PPE.
There are a number of good sources of information on PPE. Your pesticide dealer should be one of them. A very good source is the catalogs of PPE manufacturers or safety equipment companies. Their catalogs usually contain considerable valuable information on the selection, proper fit, use and care of PPE. This is especially true for respiratory protection.
Respiratory protection equipment must be selected carefully for the specific need (on the label). Respiratory protection fit testing is crucial to the effectiveness of this equipment. No one respirator will fit all faces, so you may need to try several sizes or respirators from several manufacturers to get a proper fit. Similarly, if you have a number of employees, each employee who would need respiratory protection should have their own personal respirator. This may mean potentially having to obtain respirators from several different manufacturers.
In some references personal protective equipment may be divided into several categories: Respiratory protection, eye protection, gloves, and general. This is because of the specific kinds of protection provided by each type of PPE and the levels of protection each type of equipment provides by their design and materials.
When a pesticide label includes a statement under Personal Protective Equipment that lists a chemical resistance category, such as: "Some materials that are chemical-resistant to this product are listed below. If you want more options, follow the instructions for category G on an EPA chemical-resistance category selection chart," you must refer to the EPA Chemical Resistance Category Chart > >