Personal protective equipment
Wear protective clothing and equipment to minimize exposure to pesticides during mixing and loading, application, and clean-up.
Read the pesticide label
Read the label before mixing or applying any pesticide. The label tells you the risks for different kinds of exposure, and indicates the personal protective equipment applicators you must wear to prevent pesticide exposure.
Use personal protective equipment
Using personal protective equipment reduces exposure and risks to the pesticide applicator. The type of personal protective equipment needed depends on the toxicity of the pesticide being used, the formulation (e.g. liquid, wettable powder or granules), and activity (e.g. loading and mixing or spraying). Always follow the requirements on the product label for protective equipment.
Always wear coveralls, waterproof boots, waterproof gloves, and a proper hat. Sometimes you will also need to wear eye or face protection, respirator, waterproof apron, waterproof pants and jacket.
In general, the more toxic the pesticide, the greater the need for protective equipment. Liquid formulations are often more hazardous to use than dry formulations. Granular or dust-free flowables are safer than dusty powders during mixing and loading. Extra protection is always warranted while mixing or loading pesticides. Extra protection is also necessary when the application is being made in an enclosed area.
WorkSafeBC Occupational Heath and Safety Regulations specify requirements for protection of workers. The regulations mandate that the employer must provide the worker with suitable protective clothing and equipment if the worker mixes, loads or applies a pesticide, or cleans, maintains or handles equipment or materials contaminated with pesticide residues.
Protective clothing and equipment
Wear long sleeved coveralls over full length pants and long-sleeved shirts. Make sure the coveralls are closed at the neckline and wrists. Remove your coveralls as soon as you have finished your pesticide activities. Remove them immediately if they become wet through with pesticide. Wear waterproof clothing if you might get wet during pesticide application.
Some disposable coveralls are suitable for pesticide use. Check with your supplier to see which ones can be used for pesticide application. When removing disposable coveralls, take care not to contaminate the inside if you will wear them again. Between wearing, hang them in a well ventilated area away from other clothing.
Do not launder disposable coveralls but do wash clothing worn under disposable coveralls as you would other clothing worn during pesticide use. Replace with a new coverall when severe pilling (balls on the surface), rips or holes appear. To discard, place in a plastic garbage bag and take to a landfill site.
Waterproof spray suits
If there is any danger of your coveralls being splashed or soaked through during pesticide application, wear a waterproof spray suit. It should be made of a material that will resist penetration of the solvents in the pesticide. Rubber, neoprene, and polyvinyl chloride are usually suitable. Check your equipment supplier's recommendation for the pesticide you are using. Always clean your spray suit, following the manufacturer's recommendations.
Always wear gloves when handling pesticides. Many glove materials are available. Use unlined nitrile gloves unless the pesticide label recommends a different material. Do not use gloves made of leather, cloth, or natural rubber or gloves with cloth linings as these will absorb chemicals. Latex gloves, commonly used by medical personnel, do not provide adequate protection. Make sure the gloves do not have holes or leaks.
Keep your coverall sleeves over the gloves and fold down the tops of the gloves to make cuffs to keep the pesticide from running down the sleeves and into the glove. The glove cuffs will deter the pesticide from running down the gloves to your forearms when working with your hands over your head. Wash your gloves thoroughly with soap and hot water after each use before removing them. That way they'll be clean and dry when you begin your next pesticide application.
Wear waterproof, unlined knee-high boots of rubber or neoprene when you load, mix or apply pesticides. Wear your pant legs outside of your boots so the pesticide doesn't run into your boots. Do not wear boots made of leather or fabric. Wash the outside of your boots after each use.
Goggles and face shields
Pesticides are readily absorbed through the eyes and can cause eye injury. Precautionary statements on the labels of pesticides with the signal words WARNING or DANGER generally indicate the use of eye protection. The effects of pesticides in the eyes can range from eye irritation to severe damage.
Wear goggles if there is a chance of getting pesticide spray or dust in your eyes. Prescription eyeglasses do not provide enough protection, and goggles will fit over most eyeglasses. Do not use goggles with cloth or foam headbands. Do not wear contact lenses when handling pesticides as they are permeable to vapours and gases. They can also keep the pesticide in contact with the eyes. Adequate protection with goggles is provided if the right type of venting is selected. Some goggles are made wider over the bridge of the nose to be compatible with respirators. Safety goggles have three types of venting:
- open vents for impact protection only, not recommended for use with pesticides;
- indirect vents for protection from pesticide and other chemical splash;
- non-vented for protection from gases, mists and fumes.
Face shields protect your face and eyes from direct splashes of pesticides. Always wear face shields when mixing and loading toxic pesticides for added protection. Face shields will not protect the eyes as well as goggles if you are exposed to spray mist. Wash goggles and face shields with warm, soapy water immediately after use and store in a clean, dry place.
If there is a risk of exposure to pesticides by splashing or drift, wear a wide-brimmed, rubber rain hat. Some spray suits have attached hoods which protect your head and neck area.
Do not wear baseball caps, fabric hats, straw hats or hats with leather or cloth inner bands as these will absorb and retain pesticides. Wash waterproof hat in warm, soapy water immediately after use and store in a clean, dry place.
Wear a waterproof apron when you pour and mix concentrated pesticides to protect yourself from splashes. The apron is not necessary if you are wearing a waterproof spray suit. Regular coveralls do not provide sufficient protection if you spill or splash toxic pesticides.
Protect your lungs - respirators
Wear a respirator when the label says to wear one; or when the label says to avoid inhalation of dust, vapour, or spray mist; or if there is a danger poison symbol on the label; or if you are applying pesticides in an enclosed space, such as a greenhouse. The type of respirator an applicator uses will be determined by the type and toxicity of the pesticide, application site and other factors.
Types of respirators
There are several types of respirators. Each is suitable for different purposes. Whichever respirator you choose, it should be approved by either the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) or an agency sanctioned by WorkSafeBC. Do not use dust masks when applying pesticides. They do not protect you from the fumes.
Specially designed, enclosed tractor cabs fitted with air-purifying devices can protect you from pesticide vapours. A regular enclosed cab is not adequate protection if a respirator is required.
Four types of respirators are discussed below:
Chemical Cartridge Respirators are available in different sizes in half face and full face models. The half face piece respirator is the most common respirator worn for pesticide use. Filters are attached to the face piece. There is a dust pre-filter and a cartridge filter. The cartridge filter contains absorbents such as activated charcoal to remove pesticides.
Make certain the chemical cartridge is approved for use with pesticides or organic vapours. The cartridge should be the same brand as the face mask.
A full face-piece cartridge respirator covers the mouth, nose, and eyes. This respirator gives more face protection than a half face-piece respirator with goggles. It should be worn where there is potential face and eye exposure to toxic pesticide spay mist.
Canister Respirators are similar to cartridge respirators but generally have a full face piece and a larger canister of absorbent material. Canister respirators provide more protection from vapours than cartridge respirators. They can be used in areas where there may be a relatively high concentration of vapours, such as for escape from a greenhouse after release of a fumigant. They should not be used to work in a greenhouse after release of a fumigant.
Powered Air Purifiers use an electric pump to draw air through a filter. Breathing is easy because no effort is required to draw air through the filter. Powered air purifiers can provide better protection than cartridge or canister respirators. Check that any unit you purchase has sufficient air flow and the correct filters.
Supplied-Air Respirators come with their own air supply, either a cylinder worn on the back, or a line to a distant tank. They are designed for use in emergencies such as re-entries to fumigated areas or fighting fires in a pesticide storage area.
Testing and maintaining respiratory equipment
All respirators come with instructions on use and testing. Read them. Check and fit-test your respirator each time you use it.
To check a respirator
Check all cartridges and attachments for fit. Ensure valves are clean and function correctly. Check face plates for leaks or cracks.
Fit-testing is most important. Without a proper fit you are not protected. To check for proper fit:
There should be no air leaks around the face mask. Adjust any headbands carefully to obtain a good seal. Men should shave before using the respirator. Facial hair prevents a proper fit.
Inhalation test: Place the palm of the hand over the cartridge inhalation points and breathe in. If you cannot feel air enter the mask and the face plate collapses slightly, there is a proper fit and the exhalation valve is functioning correctly.
Exhalation test: Completely cover the exhalation valve with the palm of your hand. Breathe out enough to cause slight pressure inside the face plate. If no air escapes from around the face plate, it is fitted properly and the inhalation valve is functioning correctly. If air escapes, adjust the straps and mask for a better fit and try again.
Do not wear a respirator which does not pass these tests.
Respirator cartridge replacement
The cartridges remove toxic fumes from the air. Cartridges labeled for organic vapors or pesticides are needed for most pesticides. Filters remove dust and mist. Both filters and cartridges must be replaced regularly for the respirator to work.
Check the package for cartridge replacement instructions. You can expect about four hours of life from the pre-filters and eight hours from the cartridges. These estimates can vary depending on vapour concentration and on the person using the respirator. If you ever notice that breathing becomes more difficult or that you can smell the pesticide, replace the pre-filter and cartridges immediately. Replace cartridges at least once a year, and more often if you use them frequently.
- Do not use cartridges which are more than one year old if they have been removed from their sealed bag.
- Replace all canisters on gas masks when they have exceeded the expiry date. Most canisters have a colour indicator which shows when they need to be replaced.
- Do not use a canister which has had the seal broken if you do not know when it was last used.
- Special respirators must be worn when using a highly toxic fumigant such as methyl bromide. Check the label for details.
Temperature may have an effect on your respirator. Low temperatures may cause the face plate or lenses to fog. Anti-fogging compounds are effective for temperatures down to 0oC. Nose cups are available to direct exhaled air away from the face plate.
Cleaning of respiratory equipment
Respirators should be cleaned after each use. Use waterproof gloves when cleaning your respirator. Remove all filters, cartridges, or canisters and set them aside.
- Wash the respirator in warm water with a mild detergent or in a cleaner specified by the manufacturer.
- Rinse thoroughly and drain to dry. Dry the face plate with a clean dry cloth.
- Put the respirator back together following the manufacturer's directions.
- Store the respirator in a cool, clean, dry place. Store it in a plastic bag to extend the life of the cartridge.
Checklist when you use your respirator:
- Check the intake and exhaust valves.
- Make sure there are no air leaks around the face mask. Do an inhalation or exhalation test.
- Change the dust filter after 4 hours of use or more often if breathing becomes difficult.
- Change the cartridges after 8 hours of use or sooner if you can smell the pesticide. Replace cartridges at least once a year, and more often if you use them frequently.
Protective equipment for fumigants, smoke bombs and foggers
Applicators of fumigants should be especially attentive to the label statements about personal protective equipment. Some fumigants penetrate rubber, neoprene and leather, and if trapped inside can cause severe skin irritation or be absorbed through the skin.
Use a full face gas mask with correct canister when applying very toxic pesticides indoors. Keep a fresh canister on hand as they can lose their effectiveness. For methyl bromide, a special canister is required. A self contained breathing apparatus which supplies clean air is recommended for indoor work when using gases or extremely toxic compounds.
Wear a full face mask when lighting smoke bombs and when airing the house. Light the bomb farthest from the door and work toward the door. If smoke bombs are placed in more than one path, they should be lit at the same time by a separate person in each path.
When using fogging machines, wear complete protective clothing, including hat, jacket, pants or coveralls, rubber gloves, and an air-tight, full-face mask.
Wash up and clean protective equipment
Wash your hands and face often when working with pesticides. Keep soap and water with you wherever you are working. Never smoke, eat, drink or use the toilet after handling pesticides without first washing your hands.
Protective clothing will retain pesticide residue after use. Handle your clothing carefully to prevent contamination during clean-up. Follow these steps:
- Wash your gloves thoroughly before removing them. Then remove your clothes and the remainder of your protective equipment with the gloves still on. If this is too awkward, you can wear surgical gloves underneath your regular gloves. They are available from pharmacies or home improvement centres.
- Put your coveralls in a plastic bag until you launder them.
- Wash your goggles, hats, boots, gloves, and rubberized aprons in warm, soapy water, and store them in a cool, dry place, away from pesticides and spray equipment.
- Wash your respirator according to the instructions given above.
- Carefully remove your gloves and wash them or discard them in a plastic bag along with the rinsed pesticide containers.
- Shower with lots of soap as soon as possible and before changing into clean clothes.
Laundering protective clothing
Collect pesticide worker clothing separately from other items of family laundry. Use a plastic garbage bag for collecting contaminated clothing, or use a laundry hamper or plastic garbage pail designated only for that. Do not store any other clothing items in these containers.
Do not touch contaminated clothing with bare hands. Wear rubber gloves when handling. Wash the gloves thoroughly before removing them, and do not use them for other household tasks.
Launder separately from other clothing to prevent residues from contaminating regular laundry.
Pre-rinse clothing. Soak in water, hose down out-of-doors, or use a prewash cycle on the washing machine. If the presoak cycle on the automatic washer is used, let the presoak water drain, then refill with fresh water for detergent washing.
Use the hottest water setting on your machine, and the highest water setting to maximize residue removal in laundering. Do not overfill the machine with clothing. Rinse temperature is not as important.
Use a heavy-duty liquid detergent or a phosphate (powdered) detergent. Heavy-duty liquid detergents are very effective in removing oily residues such as emulsifiable concentrate formulations, and are not affected by water hardness. Phosphate-powdered detergents are very effective in removing particulate material, such as wettable powder formulations, but are sensitive to hard water.
Use a normal wash cycle, set on the longest time. If the washer has a suds-saver feature, DO NOT use it for pesticide-soiled clothing.
Laundry Additives: Fabric softener may be used if desired. Bleach may be used, but take care not to mix bleach with ammonia because they react to form a dangerous chlorine gas. Fabric starch may be used, and may actually increase the effectiveness of washing out residues during the next laundering.
Line dry clothing. Many pesticides break down in sunlight.
Keep fabric as clean as possible. Oily dirt (such as foods, body oils, or machinery oils) make residue removal more difficult.
Wash clothes more than once. Clothing worn while using slightly toxic pesticides may be effectively laundered in one to three machine washings. If clothes are heavily contaminated, run two complete cycles. Multiple washings of clothing contaminated with more toxic or more concentrated pesticides are strongly recommended.
Discard any clothing that has become soaked with a pesticide, or if contaminated with concentrated, highly toxic pesticides.
Clean washer after use. Run the washing machine through a full cycle with detergent and no clothes to remove any pesticide residues.
Do not dry clean. Dry cleaning is not recommended because dry cleaning solvents are recycled and may retain pesticide residues that will contaminate other clothing.
- Laundry Instructions Poster (PDF) - print and post on or near your washing machine.