Hesperian Health Guides

How to Reduce Harm from Pesticide Use

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 14: Pesticides Are Poison > How to Reduce Harm from Pesticide Use

If you work with pesticides, use them with great care. Whether you are a farmer or a laborer, be responsible for your own well-being, the well-being of other people, and the environment. To protect yourself and those around you:

  • Control pests without pesticides (see Chapter 15: Sustainable Farming and Chapter 17: A Healthy Home).
  • Do not work alone with pesticides.
  • Use the pesticide only on the crop it is meant for.
  • Use the smallest amount you can. More is not always better.
  • Do not mix different pesticides together.
  • Keep pesticides off your body and off other people.
  • Keep pesticides away from water sources.
  • Do not use pesticides when it is windy, raining, or about to rain.
  • Make sure your clothing covers you completely.
  • Try not to wipe your eyes, face, and neck when you handle pesticides.
  • Wash your hands before eating, drinking, or touching your face.
  • Keep your fingernails and toenails short so pesticides cannot collect under them.
  • Use protective clothing and equipment.
  • Do not enter sprayed fields until it is safe to do so.
  • Wash well after using pesticides.
In a sunny field, a man and woman wearing protective clothing speak.
It’s too hot to wear all this!
Yes it is uncomfortable, but without protective clothing you can get poisoned.

Protective clothing may be uncomfortable, but it can save your life.

To make wearing protective clothing more comfortable, spray early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is not so hot. Rest in the shade and drink a lot of clean water to prevent heat sickness. To prevent or treat heat sickness, see Where There Is No Doctor or another medical book.

A man's backpack sprayer drips as he sprays a field.

When you work in the fields

Make sure your equipment works properly

Check equipment for safety before you use it. Make sure pesticide applicators are not damaged and will not leak on you. Do not wear a cracked or broken backpack sprayer or ripped or cracked gloves. If you have a respirator, use it and change the filters every day. Breathing any pesticide without a respirator can affect your health.

Most farmers and farm workers cannot get good protective equipment. This is one reason why using pesticides is not safe.
A woman holding a respirator speaks.
Respirators and gloves are made for men. They do not fit women’s bodies or young people. Women use pesticides as much as men, so protective equipment should protect them too. If it does not fit, it does not protect.

Farm owners must provide washing facilities

If farm laborers use pesticides, it is the responsibility of farm owners to make sure there are places for workers to wash themselves and their clothing and equipment, as well as enough soap and clean water.

A man washes his hands at an outdoor tap.

Wash yourself well and often

Wash your hands with water and soap before eating, smoking, drinking, chewing gum or tobacco, touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, and before going to the toilet.

After working, first clean under your fingernails and toenails. Then wash your whole body with soap and cool water.

Wash your clothes with care after working with pesticides

Washing work clothes is one of the most important things you can do to prevent pesticide poisoning. When work clothes are put back on without being washed, the skin is exposed to pesticides.

A man washes his clothes in a large bucket.
Always wash work clothes apart from regular and family clothes.

After work, change clothing and put work clothes in a plastic bag to protect the person who has to wash them (even if it is you).

Use clean water and soap, and wear gloves to protect your hands. Do not wash pesticide-covered clothes in rivers. Never bathe or wash anything in irrigation or drainage ditches. Try not to touch the clothes without gloves, and wash your hands afterward. Throw dirty water back onto fields, away from drinking water sources.

Wash small amounts of clothes at a time and repeat until the pesticide stain or smell goes away. Also wash boots, gloves, and hats in soap and water.

Dry clothes away from where pesticides are sprayed. Do not dry clothes outside when pesticides are being sprayed nearby or from airplanes.

Before washing other clothes in the washing basin, clean it with fresh water and detergent.

Store work clothes separately from other clothing.

A label with a skull and crossbones reading "Danger, Pesticides, Do Not Enter Until March 16, 08.

Do not enter a field right after spraying

Wait until sprays have dried and dusts have settled before entering a field. Find out what pesticides have been used and do not enter the field until it is safe. See the pesticide label to find out how soon after spraying it is safe to enter a field.

Storing pesticides

Pesticides must be stored in a safe, dry place. Pesticides are often left in storage for a long time, causing their containers to leak. Finding dead cats, birds, and other animals around buildings where pesticides are stored is often the first sign that chemicals have begun to seep into the ground and water.

Keep pesticides in their proper containers

Do not put pesticides in animal feed sacks, drink bottles, or water buckets. Make sure pesticide containers are tightly closed and stored upright. Check them regularly for breaks, leaks, and weak spots.

Label pesticide containers

A skull and crossbones.

Illustration of the below:A woman drinks from a container labelled with a skull and crossbones which has been crossed out with a large x.
Never use pesticide containers to carry water for drinking or washing.

If you buy small amounts of pesticides and put them in other containers, label the containers with the name of the pesticide and a picture that means "danger," for example a skull and crossbones. Do not use those containers for anything else. Store pesticides out of the reach of children, in a locked cabinet or container, away from food or feed.

Transport pesticides carefully

When you transport or move pesticides, put them in the back of the truck or in the car trunk. Tie the containers down securely so they cannot move or fall over. Do not carry pesticides in your food basket or on your head. Do not let children buy or carry pesticides.

Get rid of empty pesticide containers safely

Never use pesticide containers for drinking, washing, storing food, or anything else. Do not use plastic pesticide wraps for raincoats or any other personal use. The best thing to do with empty pesticide containers is to make holes in them so no one will reuse them, and then bury them.

A man wearing protective clothing fills a backpack sprayer from a container of pesticide.

When you mix and load pesticides

Wear protective clothing

When you mix pesticides and load them into applicators, wear eye protection, rubber gloves, and an apron, as well as the other protective clothing you would normally wear.

IMPORTANT! Never mix pesticides with your hands.

Be careful

For Pesticides Only

Open bags of pesticides with a sharp knife or scissors so pesticide dust will not spill out. Label the knife or scissors, wash them, and keep them for pesticide use only.

If you add water to pesticides, never put a water hose directly into a pesticide mixture. Keep the hose clean in case people use it for drinking or washing.

Follow the directions for measurements. Use the amount directed on the label. Never mix, load, or clean equipment near waterways or drinking water sources!

Keep pesticides out of your mouth

To clear out a clogged nozzle, blow through a drinking straw and then mark the end that touches the nozzle so you do not put that end in your mouth if you use it again. To draw pesticides out of an applicator, or to transfer pesticides or fuels from one container to another, never start a siphon with your mouth. And always be careful not to breathe in the poison.

Do not touch or taste pesticides or pesticide-coated seeds. Do not eat anything from the fields until you wash it carefully.

Do not smoke, drink, or eat while mixing or applying pesticides. Leave food, gum, and tobacco in sealed containers in areas that have not been treated with pesticides. Tobacco and food absorb pesticides, so do not carry them while working.

If you spill pesticides

Before you clean up a pesticide spill, protect yourself, the people nearby, and water sources. If there are people more prepared than you to clean up a spill (trained to do this work), call them for help. Always wear protective clothing to clean up spills.