Washington Farm Bureau raps L&I’s family definition

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TUMWATER, Wash. — Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries will take comments until the end of August on pesticide-handling rules, including whether all regulations should apply to a farmer’s extended family.

L&I proposes to exempt only spouses, children, parents and siblings from the worker-protection standards. Uncles, nephews and other relatives employed on the farm would have to get the same instructions, warnings and training as other workers.

The Washington Farm Bureau says the narrow definition of family would drive up costs for family farms. L&I says it wants as many workers as possible protected by the safety standards.

“Our goal as an agency is to keep Washington safe and working,” L&I industrial hygienist Gabrielle Toutonghi said Tuesday.

The worker-protection standards are intended to protect farmworkers from accidental exposure to pesticides. A farmer’s “immediate family” is exempted from most requirements. Also, immediate family members younger than 18 can work around pesticides.

The Environmental Protection Agency set federal standards in 2015 that states must meet or exceed. The EPA redefined “immediate family” to include grandparents, grandchildren, in-laws, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and first cousins.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture adopted in 2017 the new EPA standards, including the more expansive family definition.

L&I is now updating its own worker-safety standards for handling pesticides. The agency proposes to keep the pre-2015 family definition. The agency has not studied how much the narrower definition would cost farms because from L&I’s perspective it isn’t proposing a change.

The Farm Bureau says L&I should follow the agriculture department’s lead.

“The proposed language by Labor & Industries to exclude certain family members will increase costs for Washington farmers and prohibit them from growing the family farm,” the Farm Bureau said in written comments submitted to L&I.

“This is another example of excessive, unnecessary regulations that provide no value, but drive up the costs for farmers,” the Farm Bureau stated.

Toutonghi said a more expansive family definition could hinder L&I’s ability to correct pesticide-handling practices that led to an exposure.

“The goal isn’t to penalize. The goal is to get them to do something to prevent it from happening again,” she said.

L&I has proposed several other rules that would depart from the standards the agriculture department adopted. The Farm Bureau says several of the revisions are necessary.

“Proposing rules that would directly conflict with the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the federal Environmental Protection Agency leads to nothing but misinterpretation and inconsistency for Washington farmers,” according to the Farm Bureau.

L&I is conferring with the agriculture department in writing the standards, Toutonghi said.

L&I held the first of four public hearings on the proposed rules Tuesday in Tumwater. No one testified. The second hearing was planned for the following day in Mount Vernon.

The final two hearings will be in Eastern Washington: 9 a.m. Aug. 22 at the L&I office in Moses Lake and 9 a.m. Aug. 23 at the L&I office in Yakima.

L&I intends for its standards to go into effect in early February.

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Posted on: August 21, 2019