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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

Workers exposed to plant protection products: ANSES recommends conducting tests to more effectively assess the performance of personal protective equipment 14 November 2012

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News of 14/11/2012

In the context of the assessment of plant protection preparations, the regulations provide for the assessment of risks for users. In certain cases, authorisation of a preparation may be dependent upon users of the product wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). In order to enable risk managers to specify the type of equipment to recommend to future users within the context of marketing authorisation application decisions, ANSES recommends adding to the regulations a requirement for the petitioner to provide the results of PPE tests which attest that they fulfil the performance objectives required for protective equipment for the product in question, based on standardised tests and\or exposure studies.

Plant protection products are, by nature, active products which may be harmful for the environment or for health. The manner in which they are used and assessed is therefore strictly regulated by law. Over the last several years, this regulatory framework, which is now a European one, has become much more stringent. Plant protection preparations and the active substances which they are made up of are regularly reassessed for each of their specific uses, based on criteria guaranteeing safety of use provided the instructions for their use are complied with. However, with regard to the hazards these products present, the question of their health effects, especially for workers exposed to them in a professional context, is a top-priority topic for ANSES. Through its Regulated Products Department, The Agency is in charge of the assessment, prior to marketing authorisation, of the effectiveness and risks of plant protection preparations. Based on the Opinions issued by the Agency, the Ministry of Agriculture may or may not authorise these products.

Additional information regarding the effectiveness of protection equipment needed

During the assessment of plant protection preparations, the regulations (1) provide for the assessment of risks for users (applicators, agricultural workers, etc.). Within this context, in initial estimation of the exposure of agricultural workers is made based on the agricultural practice employed using models (2) that provide an estimation of applicator exposure with or without the use of protective equipment (protective gloves and\or clothing and\or mask, etc.). These models have been designed based on experimental data from exposure studies under real-life conditions, considered to be representative of the technique under examination.
For certain plant protection preparations, the risk for the operator is only acceptable, with regard to current regulations, if they are wearing protective gloves and clothing during certain phases, such as the preparation of mixtures and\or product application.
In such cases, the issuing of a favourable Opinion by the Agency regarding the plant protection product is dependent upon wearing personal protection equipment (PPE). The Agency therefore clearly informs the risk manager of the risk and specifies in a publicly-issued Opinion, the level of performance required of the equipment in terms of the allowance factor (or protection factor) that the PPE must ensure for a given exposure level to the product. However, the experimental data on which the exposure models are based do not always make it possible to associate with certainty the required level of protection to a commercially-available type of protection equipment.

To enable risk managers to specify a recommended type of personal protection equipment for future users of a product within the context of a marketing authorisation decision, ANSES must provide more precise information on the types of PPE that fulfil the required protection objectives. In order to do this, the Agency needs to collect additional information from the petitioner regarding PPE. In keeping with this goal, the Agency issued an internal request in 2011 in order to provide an inventory of the PPE available on the French market and to assess their performance using a standardised test.

A recommendation to supplement the currently enforced regulations

In this context, ANSES was requested by the Directorate General for Food (DGAL) on 13 September 2012 to provide additional information following issuance of the Agency's Opinions on PPE characteristics.

In response to this formal request, ANSES, in an Opinion which was published today, recommends that the authorities integrate into the regulations (3) a requirement for the petitioner to provide the results of tests on commercialised PPE conducted with the plant protection product for which the application has been submitted for authorisation. Such tests would make it possible to attest, based on standardised tests, that the required performance objectives for the protection equipment with regard to the product under examination have been met.

In this context, ANSES recommends that a harmonised standard adapted to agricultural workers exposed to pesticides be adopted as rapidly as possible within the framework of the European PPE Directive in order to facilitate the availability of certified CE-marked Personal Protection Equipment.

Find out more:

  • Opinion of 29 October 2012 concerning a request for additional information on the Opinions issued by ANSES regarding the characteristics of Person Protection Equipment (PPE) (in french)

ANSES and assessment of the impact of plant protection products on farm workers
As one of its earliest initiatives, ANSES wished to issue a formal internal request on the real impact of the exposure of agricultural workers to pesticides, with regard to two issues: a posteriori worker risk assessment, in order to propose a targeted and proportionate reduction or elimination of exposure, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Concerning the first issue, four principal objectives have been set:

  • Characterise the categories of farm workers potentially exposed to pesticides with regard to the different agricultural production systems, their effects on specific agricultural tasks and the resulting exposures.
  • Identify and describe the occupational situations responsible for direct and indirect exposure (treatment residues in the treated areas);
  • Collect and analyse the available knowledge of exposure levels for these situations;
  • Correlate exposure data with health data.

In parallel, an internal request on the effectiveness of the protective clothing worn by workers applying plant protection products was also initiated. The study will be conducted in two stages:

  • a description of the equipment on the market will be drafted with the aid of a survey of equipment distributors and equipment available on the Internet,
  • a description of the farming practices and the protective equipment actually worn by farm workers in the field will be made.

The goal, which is also a major element of the Ecophyto plan, is to be able to suggest improvements in the Agency's recommendations regarding protection of agricultural workers. This work is being conducted in close partnership with organisations such as the CCMSA, the ANACT, and other organisations of the R31 (4).

(1) Regulation (EC) no. 1107\2009 and Decree no. 2012-755 of 9 May 2012
(2) Caisse Centrale de la Mutualité Sociale Agricole
(3) Agence nationale pour l'amélioration des conditions de travail
(4) The R31 is a network of 31 scientific organisations led by ANSES, which coordinates their work for the purpose of health risk assessment in its sphere of competence.