Read the pesticide labelPlease read the pesticide label prior to use. The information contained at this web site is not a substitute for a pesticide label. Trade names used herein are for convenience only. No endorsement of products is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products implied.

Pesticides can enter the body through four routes of exposure including your dermal (skin), ocular (eyes), ingestion (mouth) and inhalation (lungs). Skin contact is the most common cause of pesticide poisoning for applicators and some pesticides enter the body through the skin quite readily. At the time of mixing, pesticides are more concentrated and the likelihood of injury is increased during this time. Some parts of the body absorb pesticides extremely fast (within a few minutes) and need extra protection. Two such areas are the head and body area between the navel and about mid-thigh.  If any pesticide is spilled in this area, wash it off immediately and change clothing. It is best to avoid direct contact with pesticides by wearing the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as specified on the label of the pesticide you intend to use.

Signal Words

One of four words are required on a pesticide label to indicate the relative toxicity of the pesticide. 

  • Danger-Poison or Danger - Toxicity category I - Highly toxic (fatal if ingested)
  • Danger - Toxicity category I - Highly corrosive to eyes and skin
  • Warning - Toxicity category II - Moderately toxic
  • Caution - Toxicity category III and IV - Least toxic

These are known as signal words and are assigned on the basis of the highest measured toxicity, be it oral, dermal, or inhalation; effects on the eyes and external injury to the skin. Since the toxicity category and signal words are based on the total formulation, certain products may have the same active ingredient (a.i.), but may bear different signal words in different formulations. Signal words indicate the relative toxicity of a pesticide formulation. You should always read the pesticide label to determine what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) you are required to wear for that product.

Personal Protective Equipment


Always wear unlined, elbow-length chemical-resistant gloves when handling all pesticides. The elbow-length protect your wrists and prevent pesticides from running down your sleeves into your gloves.

Glove materials include:

  • Natural rubber (latex) - only effective for dry formulations. Relatively Permeable.
  • Nitrile - good protection for both dry and liquid pesticides. Moderately permeable.
  • Butyl - good protection for both dry and liquid pesticides.
  • Neoprene - good protection for both dry and liquid pesticides, not recommended for fumigants.
  • Polyethylene
  • Polyvinylchloride (PVC)
  • Barrier laminates like 4H® and Silver Shield®. Relatively impermeable.

Check the quality of construction and material before buying any glove because efficacy varies with the manufacturer. Protection increases with the thickness of the materials, but extra thick gloves may interfere with dexterity. Never use fingerless gloves.

Never use leather or cotton gloves. These types of gloves can be more hazardous than no protection at all because they absorb and hold the pesticide close to your skin for long periods of time.

Remember proper glove use is as important as selection. Check closely for holes by filling the gloves with air or clean water and gently squeezing. Destroy the gloves if any holes appear. Wrap in a plastic bag and put with an empty pesticide container for proper disposal. In the case of where your hands are reaching up (such as changing nozzles), turn glove cuffs up to form a cup to trap any liquid that runs down the arm. When you are finished spraying, wash your gloves with detergent and water before you remove them. This way, you will not contaminate your hands or the inside of the gloves when you remove them. Then wash your hands with lots of soap and water after you remove the gloves.

Not all glove materials will give you the same level of protection. Some materials will last longer against certain types of pesticides and chemicals. They will be highly, moderately or slightly chemical resistant.  The chart below gives you a range of PPE materials from which to choose for each glove category that may be listed on a pesticide label. Use only unlined gloves.

The chart will also indicate how long you can expect the material to be resistant to the pesticide you are using. For example, the label might say: "If you want more options, follow the instructions for category F on an EPA chemical resistance selection chart." This means you should select PPE made from barrier laminate, butyl rubber, nitrile or Viton because they are highly chemical resistant to that pesticide.

Selection Category Listed on Pesticide Label Barrier Laminate Butyl Rubber ≥ 14 mils Nitrile Rubber ≥ 14 mils Neoprene Rubber* ≥ 14 mils Natural Rubber ≥ 14 mils Polyethylene
A (dry and water based foundations) HIGH HIGH HIGH HIGH HIGH HIGH

* Includes natural rubber blends and laminates.  

HIGH: Highly chemical-resistant. Clean or replace PPE at end of each day's work period. Rinse off pesticides at rest breaks.

MOD: Moderately chemical-resistant. Clean or replace PPE within an hour or two of contact.

SLIGHT: Slightly chemical-resistant. Clean or replace PPE within 10 minutes of contact.

NONE: No chemical-resistance. Do not wear this type of material as PPE when contact is possible.

Body Covering

Regular work attire of long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, shoes, and socks are acceptable for slightly toxic (category III- Caution) and relatively non-toxic (category IV - Caution) pesticides. Many applicators prefer work uniforms and cotton coveralls that fit the regular-work-attire description and provide equal protection. Applicators should reserve one set of clothing for pesticide use only. Launder and store separately from all other clothing.

To apply moderately toxic (category II - Warning) or highly toxic (category I - Danger or Danger-Poison) chemicals, wear a clean, dry protective suit that covers your entire body from wrists to ankles. The sleeves must be long enough to wear over gloves. Openings, such as pockets, should be kept to a minimum. Protective suits are one- or two-piece garments, such as coveralls, and should be worn over regular work clothes and underwear. Protective suits may be disposable or reusable and are available in woven, nonwoven, coated and laminated fabrics. Since pesticides can work their way through clothing fibers, the degree of protection increases as one moves from woven to nonwoven and from coated and laminated fabrics. Read the manufacturer's label for specific information related to care and intended use. Good quality construction, proper fit, and careful maintenance or disposal are also important.

Woven fabrics provide a barrier of fabric and air between the wearer and the pesticide but the effectiveness of the barrier depends on the specific properties of the fabric. Tightly woven, cotton twill offers better pesticide protection than other woven fabrics. Cotton coveralls are a sensible choice for general use because they are comfortable, lightweight, readily available, reusable, and affordable. They reduce the risk of dermal exposure to pesticides in dust, granule, or powder form but they do not protect the wearer against spills, sprays, or mists and are not recommended for use with liquid pesticides. Cotton coveralls may be reused if washed properly.  Click here to view a webpage on "Laundering Pesticide Contaminated Clothing."

Nonwoven fabrics have a random orientation of fibers which do not allow direct paths through the material. Coveralls of nonwoven fabrics are less comfortable than coveralls made of woven fabric and precautions should be taken to avoid heat stress situations. Most nonwoven suits are disposable; they should be discarded after eight hours of use.

Uncoated nonwoven fabrics are convenient for use with pesticides in dust, granule, or powder form. They do not protect the wearer against spills, sprays, or mists and are not recommended for use with liquid pesticides and should not be worn when using chlorinated hydrocarbons. Tyvek, a 100% spunbonded polyethylene fabric made by DuPont, is an example of an uncoated nonwoven fabric.

Fabrics can be made more resistant to pesticide penetration by laminating fabric layers and/or by applying chemical coatings. Chemical -resistant protective suits of coated or laminated fabrics are a must if you (or your helper) will be in a mist or spray that would wet your clothing. Coated and laminated fabrics resist water penetration, but not all of these fabrics qualify as chemical resistant. Chemical-resistant suits are recommended when handling highly toxic (category I) pesticides.

Coated and laminated protective suits used for pesticide protection are listed below:

  1. Tyvek QC, a DuPont product of 100% spunbonded polyethylene fabric coated with a polyethylene film, protects the wearer against dry and liquid drift or splashes. It does not protect against certain pesticides containing chlorinated hydrocarbons or organophosphorus compounds. It is not chemical- resistant and is rather uncomfortable in hot weather. It is a disposable product.
  2. Tyvek QC+ is DuPont Tyvek that is laminated with Saranex-23P, a saran film made by Dow Chemical. It provides added breakthrough protection from dry and certain liquid pesticides at the category I and category II toxicity levels. It does not protect against chlorinated hydrocarbons and is uncomfortable in hot weather. It is a disposable product.
  3. Waterproof rainwear. Fabrics with PVC, butyl, and neoprene coatings protect the user against liquid and toxic pesticides. Current research indicates that butyl and neoprene are more resistant than PVC. Wearers complain that these protective suits are cumbersome and uncomfortable in hot weather. They are reusable if properly maintained, but their longevity is still under investigation.
  4. Gore Tex, a microporous film laminate produced by W.L. Gore and Associates, Inc., is chemically resistant and comfortable to wear. It is not yet a practical choice because of its expense and unresolved maintenance problems.


Wear a chemical-resistant apron when repairing or cleaning spray equipment and when mixing or loading. This is a good practice for all pesticides and is essential for pesticides of category I and II toxicity. Aprons offer excellent protection against spills and splashes of liquid formulations, but they are also useful when handling dry formulations such as wettable powders. Aprons can be easily worn over other protective clothing and are comfortable enough for use in warm climates. Choose an apron that extends from the neck to at least the knees. Some aprons have attached sleeves. Nitrile, butyl, and neoprene offer the best protection. PVC and natural rubber are also available.


Wear unlined chemical-resistant boots which cover your ankles when handling or applying moderately or highly toxic pesticides. Purchase boots with thick soles. Nitrile and butyl boots appear to give the best protection.

Do not use leather boots.

If chemical-resistant boots are too hot to wear in warm climates or too difficult to put on, try wearing chemical-resistant overboots with washable shoes (such as canvas sneakers or layered socks.) Remember to put your pant legs outside the boots, otherwise the pesticide can drain into the boot.

Wash boots after each use and dry thoroughly inside and out to remove all pesticide residue. Use them only for pesticide applications. It is wise to keep two pair of boots on hand in case of accidental contamination. Wash socks and canvas sneakers worn under chemical-resistant boots just like you would pesticide contaminated clothing. Click here to view a webpage on "Laundering Pesticide Contaminated Clothing."

Boots should be replaced at least yearly. As a reminder, write the date of purchase on the boot.

Goggles or Face Shield

Wear shielded safety glasses; a full-face respirator; snug-fitting, non-fogging goggles; or a full-face shield whenever the chemical could possibly contact your eyes. Safety glasses with brow and side shields are acceptable for low exposure situations. Always wear goggles or full-face respirator when you are pouring or mixing concentrates or working in a highly toxic spray or dust. In high exposure situations when both face and eye protection are needed, a face shield can be worn over goggles. Clean them after each use. Be careful of the headband; it is often made of a material which readily absorbs and holds chemicals. Have several spares and change them often or use a chemical-resistant strap. If possible, wear the strap under your head covering.


The hair and skin on your neck and head must be protected too. This is most important in situations where exposure from overhead dusts or sprays is possible, such as hand-spraying uphill or when flagging for aerial applications. Chemical-resistant rain hats, wide brimmed hats, and washable hard hats (with no absorbing liner) are good. In cool weather, chemical-resistant parkas with attached hoods are a good choice. If the attached hood is not being used, tuck it inside the neckline so that it will not collect pesticides. Do not use cotton or felt hats; they absorb pesticides.

Disposable gloves or shoe covers should be used only once for a very short-term task, and then discarded. First wash the PPE, and then remove them by turning them inside out. Then dispose of them properly.


Respirators protect you from inhaling toxic chemicals. The label will tell you if a respirator is required. Consider wearing one during any lengthy exposure with a high risk of pesticide inhalation. Always wear a respirator while mixing or filling highly toxic pesticides. Applicators who will be constantly exposed to small amounts of moderately toxic pesticides for a day or several days, should also wear a respirator.

Air-Purifying Respirators

Air-purifying respirators remove contaminants from air by filtering the air. In the majority of situations where a pesticide applicator will need a respirator, an air-purifying respirator will provide adequate protection. These respirators will not protect the applicator from all airborne pesticides, such as fumigants, and are not to be used when the oxygen supply is low. The pesticide label will specify which type of respirator must be worn.

Air-purifying respirators can be categorized into four styles; cup-shaped filters, full or half-face piece style with cartridges, full or half-face piece style with a canister and the powered air-purifying respirator.  The filtering face piece respirator, such as the N95, must be worn when the pesticide label requires one and when the risk of inhaling pesticide dusts, powders, mists, aerosols, or sprays is present. These cup-style dust/mist-filtering respirators are usually made of stiff fabric that is shaped like a cup. It is worn on the face and covers the nose and mouth and filters out dusts, mists, powders, and particles. Pesticide handlers must wear cup-style or cartridge-style dust/mist-filtering respirators with a NIOSH/MSHA approval number prefix TC-84A.

A respirator that also removes vapors must be worn if the pesticide label requires it and when there is a risk of inhaling gases or vapors. Respirators with full or half-face face piece and have one or more cartridges that contain air-purifying materials can meet this requirement. This face piece style also comes with a large canister that contains more air-purifying materials than a cartridge does. This style must seal tightly against the face. A fit test is necessary before using a cartridge or canister respirator for the first time.

Pesticide applicators will be given directions on the label for the proper respirator and cartridge. Organic vapor (OV)-removing cartridge respirators will list a choice of either an N, R or P filter or prefilter. Respirator filters/prefilters will be designated as "N" (meaning no oil resistance), "R" (oil-resistant for 8 hours) or "P" (oil-proof, may last longer than 8 hours). This means that "R" and "P" respirators assure that oils will not degrade filter efficiency. Respirator cartridges will have an efficiency designation of 95, 99 or 100. A type 95 is 95% efficient while a type 99 is 99% efficient and the type 100 is the most efficient and equivalent to the old HEPA filter. The type 100 respirators will be designated "HE" (high efficiency) and will be used with powered air-purifying respirators.

There are three questions that must be answered when selecting a new respirator. They have to do with selecting the type of filter and the efficiency of the filter. The following table sketches out the basics.

  1. Is the pesticide formulation or tank mix oil-based?
    1. Yes - Choose "R" or "P" filter or pre-filter
    2. No - Choose either an "N", "R" or "P" filter or pre-filter
  2. Will the respirator be used more than 8 hours with an oil-containing chemical?
    1. Yes - Choose a "P" filter or pre-filter
    2. No - Choose either an "R" or "P" filter or pre-filter
  3. The third question, "Which filter efficiency do I choose?" requires a little discussion. For all practical purposes, there are two choices, the type 95 and the type 100. Most manufacturers probably will not make both the type 99 and 100, but only the 100 or HE filter or pre-filter. As a general rule, types 95 and 100 are both good for most pesticide uses. When the job requires a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) or type 100 respirator, the selection should then be the "HE" or type 100. Higher filter efficiency means lower filter leakage.

Note: To remember the filter series, use the following guide:

  • N for Not resistant to oil
  • R for Resistant to oil
  • P for oil Proof
Nine Choices Based on Filter Class and Efficiency
Filter/Class Efficiencies 95% 99% 99.97-100%
N-series (not resistant to oils) N95 N99 N100
R-series (resistant to oils for up to 8 hours) R95 T99 R100
P-series (oil-proof) P95 P99 P100

Example Uses of New Respirator Designations

  • R95 - Pesticide and pain pre-filters
  • N95 and R95 - Dust/mist disposable masks
  • P100 - HEPA filters
  • R95 - Oil dust masks with time limit
  • OV/P100 - Oil containing pesticides or paints (no time limit with organic vapor cartridge)

Powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) force air through air-purifying material (cartridge or canister) to assist the wearer in obtaining clean filtered air. These are positive pressure respirators and are good for users with respiratory problems or with facial hair that may prevent a tight seal with full or half-face respirators. Powered air-purifying respirators purify contaminated air and do not provide oxygen or supply air from an outside source.

The filters may need to be replaced two or more times each day. The filters and prefilters should be replaced when:

  • The filter element is damaged or torn.
  • When the respirator manufacturer or the pesticide label requires it. If their recommendations are different, use the most frequent interval recommended.
  • The end of each day's work period, if no other instructions are available.

Air-Supplying Respirators

Air-supplying respirators are used in situations where the other types of respirators will not provide enough protection. They are also used when the oxygen supply is low and when the pesticide label requires one. Supplied-air respirators supply clean air through a hose directly to the face mask. The working distance is thus limited to the length of the hose. Wear supplied-air respirators with a NIOSH/MSHA approval number prefix TC-19C. A self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) supplies clean air from cylinders that are carried. They allow more freedom of movement and require specialized training for their proper use. The air supply is limited to between 30 and 60 minutes. Wear SCBA with a NIOSH/MSHA approval number prefix TC-13F.

Useing Respirators Correctly

  • The respirator should fit properly on your face. It should be worn tightly enough to form a seal all around your face. Respirators come in different sizes. Each person who will wear a respirator must be fit tested prior to using it. Facial hair must be groomed such that a proper seal between the face and the respirator is made. This usually means that beards or long sideburns must be removed. Do not wear the headband too tightly or headaches and/or dizziness may result.
  • Respirator manufacturers make a variety of cartridges to fit their face pieces and each cartridge has its own intended use. It is essential that a cartridge designed to filter out pesticides from the air be selected and used. Having the wrong cartridge may expose the applicator to toxic levels of pesticides. Check the filter (the cloth-like outer layer) of your respirator often. Replace it when it looks dirty or if breathing becomes difficult. Cartridges should be changed after every eight hours of use. If you notice a pesticide odor first check to be sure the respirator is sealed on your face. If the odor persists, change the cartridge immediately.
  • After each use, wash the face piece with detergent and warm water. Rinse thoroughly and wipe dry with a clean cloth. Store the respirator, filters, and cartridges in a clean, dry place away from pesticides. A tightly closed plastic bag works well for storage.

Reducing Risks Through Engineering

Protecting sprayer operators against pesticide exposure involves more than protective clothing. There are several mechanical devices called "engineering controls" that can help reduce the risks associated with applying pesticides.

Application tasks with exposure risks

  • Adding pesticide concentrate to the tank.
  • Rinsing empty containers.
  • Folding/unfolding the boom.
  • Making repairs and adjustments.
  • Changing nozzles.
  • Drift from spray boom.

Engineering controls for risk reduction

  • Chemical induction system. Allows operator to fill sprayer from the ground rather than climbing up onto sprayer.
  • Closed transfer system. Reduces operator exposure to concentrated pesticides during filling operation.
  • Refillable concentrate containers. Usually made to work with a closed transfer system; removes the need to rinse used containers.
  • Pesticide injection system. Spray tank holds only clean water, no tank rinsing needed, and spray lines can be flushed clean in the field. Reduces or eliminates operator exposure if used with refillable container or closed transfer systems.
  • Tank rinsing system. Flushes spray residues from tank, hoses and nozzles, reducing exposure risk to the operator.
  • Hydraulic boom folding. Avoids hand contact with pesticides that may occur while folding booms manually.
  • Diaphragm check valves. Prevents drips from nozzles, which may expose operator during nozzle repair/changes, or while folding/unfolding manual booms.
  • Multi-tip nozzle bodies. Simplifies changing nozzle tips when switching crops, pesticides or rates.
  • Low-drift, twin fluid and air-assisted nozzles. Minimize spray drift and operator exposure.
  • Carbon filters for cab. Improved spray particle filtering for supplying cleaner air to operator's cab.
  • Clean water supply. Used for hand and contaminated PPE washing.
  • Protective clothing locker. Keeps clean PPE clean, reduces risk of cross contamination.

Use Commonsense

Always work in pairs when handling highly toxic chemicals. Watch your co-worker carefully for unusual behavior or actions. Remind them (and yourself) to wash their face and hands before eating, drinking, or smoking. Never use the toilet before washing your hands. It is important to avoid getting toxic pesticides on any area of your body! At the end of the day remove your contaminated clothing carefully and put it in a plastic bag, well away from the family laundry or immediately wash the clothes yourself. Shower and clean yourself thoroughly from head to toe. Pay particular attention to fingernails and hair where pesticides could remain.

Cholinesterase Tests

Both carbamate (Sevin, Furadan™, Lannate™) and organophosphate pesticides (Dursban™, Lorsban™, parathion, malathion, Di-syston™) attack a chemical in your blood necessary for your nervous system to properly function. Consider getting your blood tested to determine your normal or base level of this natural chemical called cholinesterase. Once your base level of cholinesterase has been determined, a simple blood test will show if you still have the normal amount. If you do not, you have been overexposed to either an organophosphate or carbamate pesticide. You should avoid further contact with these pesticides until your cholinesterase level has returned to normal. In severe cases antidotes must be given. Follow your doctor's directions. Any applicator working with highly toxic chemicals should have his cholinesterase level tested at regular intervals throughout the spray season.

While carbamates (CMs) cause a depression in cholinesterase levels, the enzyme levels may return to baseline levels within hours of exposure, perhaps before test results are returned. When the effects of over-exposure to CMs are being checked, blood must be drawn during actual exposure or not more than 4 hours thereafter. If the drawing of blood and the actual completion of the laboratory test is delayed for more than 4 hours, reactivation of the enzyme will have taken place in the blood. This situation makes it hard for the physician to know the extent to which cholinesterase was inhibited, and to fully assess the seriousness of any safety problems which might exist in the work environment.


Entry Restrictions

Entry restrictions are designed to protect people from being exposed to dangerous levels of pesticides left on treated surfaces. An entry restriction rule-of-thumb for all products is until sprays have dried, dusts have settled or vapors dispersed. The Worker Protection Standard (WPS) established Restricted Entry Intervals (REI) for pesticides used to produce agricultural plants. The REI is a period of time after and application of a pesticide that worker entry to the treated area is restricted. These REIs are based on the acute dermal toxicity of the active ingredient, eye irritation effects or skin irritation effects. For example, all pesticides covered under the WPS in toxicity category II have REIs of 24 hours. In other words, no one is allowed in that fields sprayed with these products for 24 hours after the application. If workers must enter the sprayed area within the REI, then those workers will need to wear the required Personal Protective Equipment that is noted on the pesticide label under "Agricultural Use Requirements."

The product label will state the specific entry restrictions. It will also state that early reentry (entering a treated area before the entry restriction has expired) can only be done by personnel wearing specific protective clothing. The applicator will know that the product is covered by the WPS if the following statement is in the "Directions for Use" section of the pesticide labeling:

Agricultural Use Requirements

Use this product only in accordance with its labeling and with the Worker Protection Standard, 40 CRF Part 170. This standard contains requirements for the protection of agricultural workers on farms, forests, nurseries, and greenhouses, and handlers of agricultural pesticides. It contains requirements for training, decontamination, notification, and emergency assistance. It also contains specific instructions and exceptions pertaining to the statements on this label about personal protective equipment, notification of workers, and restricted -entry-intervals."

Use this product only in accordance with its labeling and with the Worker Protection Standard. It contains requirements for training, decontamination, notification, and emergency assistance. It also contains specific instructions and exceptions pertaining to the statements on this label about personal protective equipment, notification of worker, and restricted-entry intervals. Do not enter or allow worker entry into treated areas during restricted entry interval (REI) of 12 hours after application.

PPE required for early entry to treated areas is: coveralls, chemical resistant gloves and shoes plus socks.

Transport Pesticides Safely

Whenever a pesticide is in your possession, you are responsible for its safe transport. Do all you can to prevent problems and be prepared in case of an emergency. Carry pesticides in the back of a truck, never in the cab. Flatbed trucks should have racks and all pesticides should be secured so they will not roll or slide. Steel beds are the best since they can be more easily cleaned if a spill should occur.  Never carry pesticides near passengers, pets, fertilizers, seed, food or feed, and risk contamination should a spill occur. All containers should be tightly closed and have legible labels. Protect all containers from moisture and temperature extremes. Never leave your vehicle alone when the pesticides are in an unlocked truck bed or compartment. The legal responsibility for the injury of curious children or careless adults is yours if the pesticides are left unattended. Don’t take chances with toxic chemicals. You are gambling with your life as well as those of others. Reference Materials Gemplers Safety Supply -
Cornell University  -
Leonard Safety Products -

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