The worker protection standard is a set of regulations that all farmers have to abide by. They were put into place to make sure that training around pesticides, the way we handle pesticides and how the interaction from worker to pesticides all happens in the safest possible way. At our farm pesticide training and handling is something that we don’t take lightly. Having everyone go home at the end of the day to their families is something that has been ingrained into the fabric of our farm for three generations. And with each generation we get better and better at handling situations that come along, along with new technology, new knowledge, new science and just new ways of skinning the same cat.
This past year I have been involved with a group of “stakeholders” to discuss the new EPA (Federal) Worker Protection Standards and how they are going to work with Oregon’s agricultural industry, how they will fit in, and the best ways to continue evolving and making Oregon employees safe day after day. I wanted to be a part of this conversation because I thought that we (as farmers) were going to be given the opportunity to tell our story and discuss what will work for us, what is redundant, what needs more information and data, and overall what is the best way to go about putting these new regulations into place. I had a very positive attitude walking into this meeting…and now months later here are my comments regarding what actually happened…and it wasn’t pretty.
***My comments are quite long, but if you’re interested (and please be interested!!!) to leave comments you can do so very easily using the Oregon farm Bureau’s website.
You can either personalize your letter or send the form letter, but either way they need to hear from us producers, I’m hoping this time they might actually listen.***
I have been very frustrated by not only the preceding of how these rules came into place, but also what has come out of the work groups.
To be honest, after attending one of the work sessions I was appalled by the lack of leadership that was shown to keep things on track and on topic. I heard mudslinging at farmers, I heard a conversation that went far beyond what we were there to discuss at that time. I personally, sitting there as one of the very few producers in the room was embarrassed that I had to sit through such a ridiculous soap box anti-farmer session. It was clear that my voice, even while sitting in the room was not going to be heard by OSHA, by the labor lobbyists, or by anyone else beyond who I already knew was on my side.
So now we have a document that is so in favor of all the soap box speeches and rants that we all had to sit through it seems like my thought of taking the high road, doing what I thought was best for our industry and standing up for that, has landed on completely deaf ears.
Just as a small example of how well myself and my colleagues were ignored by this process, take AEZ’s. I was a part of the conversation about how we would like to see them reduced for air blast to 25 feet if you are spraying a chemical that is labeled as only caution, and increasing that AEZ as the labels were labeled more dangerous. This seemed straightforward, easy to understand, less complicated and more fair. But what happened? Instead of any give and take, these documents took what we said and turned it completely around, giving nothing and just taking more by increasing AEZ’s. And using arbitrary numbers of distances to do so. Not taking into account that what you’re spraying could be less dangerous, for example seaweed, and only increasing the AEZ across the board, not taking into account that no studies have been done to show that this will help anything, or that there is a problem in the first place!
I was glad to see that there is wording in there to encourage new sprayer technology and possibly decreasing that 150 feet, but this fails to look at the technology that is already out there that is much safer! And what about incentives for safer chemicals and chemistries? Wouldn’t encouraging at least some give and take on AEZ be a good reason for many farmers to look into safer products? I think it would go a long way. But instead here we are, with distances that came from nowhere and mean essentially nothing given to us by people who have never probably even driven an airblast through an orchard.
There is good reason that the EPA is going to revisit these rules federally, because they don’t make sense. And to take rules that federally seem to not work, and only make them more over the top for our state alone seems like a gross over reach. It would make Oregon producers less competitive, while at the same time not really proving that much actual worker safety is being achieved. A fine example of this would be the lack of shelter in place options.
Allowing “Shelter in Place” would go a long way in keeping employees more safe in their homes. To wake up families in the middle of the night or early morning to get out of the their beds, out of their homes, with their kids in tow to leave the area for only a few minutes and then go back in. It’s not safe, it will make people very uncomfortable, and I believe produce a fear of spraying and chemical use that is unwarranted. I have a three year old and a two year old at home and am surrounded by two of our fields. If I had to vacated our house at 3 am because that was the calmest and best spraying conditions that we could have, I would be very upset, not to mention that I’m the boss, I can’t imagine the frustration, annoyance, and angst I would feel towards someone who said I had to do that.
But let’s say you all forced me to be that bad guy who told my employees and their kids that they would have to wake up at 3am, get their children out of bed and leave their house for 15 minutes. Let’s say I had a one very early morning window to get a critical spray on my orchard before wind and rains hit. And let’s say that my employee simply said that no, he felt safer in his house with his family sleeping. What then? Who is liable for his choice to do what (and I agree with him) is actually safer and healthier for his family? There is nothing spelled out in these documents that give any room for liability if someone refuses to do what you have informed them they must do. There needs to be room to educate, and then allow for the liability to not land on the farmers shoulders.
Moving on beyond all of these unscientific arbitrary distances, this nonsensical not allowing of shelter in place, lack of clear liability, what exactly is all of this trying to do? I have already shown that none of it actually looks at studies of cases in which people have been injured. None of it actually uses any studies where they have shown that drift is decreased or worker safety is increased. If all of this is trying to protect workers from harm that can come from them from off target applications, well then we have come to an impasse and proof that these rules are not necessary. Because that, and off target application, is the definition of drift, which is already subject to civil penalties, which is already regulated highly from Oregon Department of Agriculture. So I ask again, what problem here are we trying to solve?
It has been said that “farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles away from a corn field.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower. And in cases like this is seems that this is truly the situation. These rules ignored science, barely put efforts into finding the truths on the farm and when they were asked of us to send in information. The timing was so bad, the timeline was so short there was no way to compile enough good data while trying to still run a farm, during harvest nonetheless. Activism has taken over this entire process and those who employ and currently strongly protect our employees and workers were silenced. Those who make “Farming look mighty easy…” took the wheel and drove this process and what the end result of these documents off a cliff.
I am asking you to strongly take a good long look at the implications of these regulations. I ask you to really listen to the farmers who have been protecting workers for generations and try to be in their shoes for once. I ask you to not let activism take control here, because in the end no one will be safer, in some cases they will be more unsafe, and you will hurt agricultural employers with undue and unsubstantiated burdens that will only hurt our industry here in Oregon.
The history of this issue is long, so if you have any specific questions or need more clarification please reach out to me either through this blog or by email. I am always willing to discuss why we do what we do and where I’m coming from.