Pesticide Worker Safety

Revised Certification Standards for Pesticide Applicators

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EPA has finalized stronger standards for people who apply restricted use pesticides (RUPs). These revisions to the Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule will reduce the likelihood of harm from the misapplication of toxic pesticides. Pesticide use will be safer with increased supervision and oversight. These revisions will help ensure that RUPs are used safely.

Read the official version of the final rule in the Federal Register.

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What are the major changes to the Certification and Training Rule?

The revised rule:

  • Enhances applicator competency standards to ensure that RUPs are used safely.
  • Establishes a nation-wide minimum age for certified applicators and persons working under their direct supervision.
  • Establishes a maximum recertification interval of 5 years for commercial and private applicators.
  • Requires specialized certifications for people using specific application methods (fumigation and aerial).
  • Provides expanded options for establishing certification programs in Indian Country that acknowledge tribal sovereignty.
  • Establishes protection for noncertified applicators by requiring training before they can use RUPs (under the direct supervision of a certified applicator). Noncertified applicators have to complete the training outlined in the rule, complete Worker Protection Standard handler training, or complete a program approved by the state.
  • Clarifies and streamlines requirements for states, tribes, and federal agencies to administer their own certification programs, while granting flexibility to tailor programs to the needs of each state, tribe, or federal agency.

Additional information on the differences between the revisions and current rule is available in the comparison chart.

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When will these changes take place?

States, tribes, territories, and federal agencies have up to three years to develop and submit to EPA revised certification plans that comply with the updated rule requirements. EPA will work with each entity to develop their plans. Once a plan is submitted, EPA will have two years to review and approve the plan. Part of the plan approval will include an implementation timeframe agreed to by EPA and the state, tribe, territory, or federal agency, so that they and applicators are not required to comply with all new requirements immediately upon EPA’s approval of a revised certification plan.

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Who does this rule affect, and how?

There are approximately one million certified pesticide applicators in the United States using RUPs and the revisions impact all of those applicators, including commercial pesticide applicators and private pesticide applicators, such as farmers and ranchers. 

The revisions also impact states and tribes that operate certification programs. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, four tribes, six territories, and four federal agencies administer certification programs for RUP applicators.  The impact on applicators, states, tribes, territories, and federal agencies varies based on the current program requirements.

Most certification programs already have in place some or many of the elements of EPA’s revisions and these revisions will strengthen the baseline for applicator certification standards across the country. 

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What is the minimum age for pesticide applicators?

Previously, there was no national minimum age. With the revised rule, there is a minimum age of 18 for all pesticide applicators seeking certification and for persons using RUPs under the direct supervision of certified applicators. There is an exception for a minimum age of 16 for noncertified applicators using RUPs on a farm under the supervision of a private applicator who is a member of their immediate family.

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Which pesticides are included under the Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule?

EPA classifies the most acutely toxic pesticides or those needing to be applied with special care as restricted-use pesticides (RUPs), which means they may be bought and applied only by a certified applicator or someone working under his or her direct supervision. RUPs are not available for purchase or use by the general public.

State pesticide regulatory agencies issue certifications to pesticide applicators who demonstrate, under an EPA-approved program, that they can use the products safely. Many state pesticide regulatory agencies require applicator certification to use all pesticides commercially, whether or not they are RUPs.

EPA registers pesticides for use on specific sites and with specific limitations. For example, a product registered for use only on apples may not be used legally on grapes, or an insecticide registered for "outdoor use" may not legally be used inside a building.

View a list of restricted use pesticides

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Do these changes affect pesticide use in and around my home by a professional pest control applicator?

Yes, if RUPs are being used, the stronger certification standards would apply for pesticide applicators who are certified to apply them. Also, because most states already require commercial applicators, such as professional pest control workers, to be certified whether or not they use RUPs, a pesticide applicator you hire, under the proposed rule, would likely have to demonstrate they meet the new competency standards that emphasize safe practices.

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How does EPA ensure the safety of pesticides? What kind of restrictions does EPA place on pesticide use?

EPA takes very seriously our duty to ensure that, when used according to label instructions, pesticides can be used safely. We rely on risk assessment processes to evaluate the potential for human health and environmental impacts from pesticide use, and to make decisions about pesticide regulation, both new and existing. New pesticides must be evaluated before they can enter the market. EPA uses extensive human health and environmental fate and effects data to determine specific requirements on the label. Existing pesticides must be re-evaluated periodically to ensure that they continue to meet current safety standards. Learn more about the pesticide registration process.

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How did EPA develop the revisions?

Revising this rule was an inclusive process that occurred over a number of years. EPA has been engaging stakeholders both formally and informally on ideas for the revisions since the 1990s. EPA has received extensive feedback, including in-depth comments on the proposed revisions. The revisions were developed with input from individuals, state and tribal regulatory partners and other organizations through numerous stakeholder meetings and other outreach.

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