Safe Use of Herbicides

The health and safety of the applicator are the primary concern during herbicide treatments. Applicators MUST wear all protective gear required on the label of the herbicide they are using. Any additional safety and protective gear requested by the applicators must be provided. After using herbicides, be sure to adequately clean gear and properly store or dispose of extra chemicals.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Herbicide labels indicate the minimum protective equipment required. This may vary by application technique. Cotton, leather, canvas and other absorbent materials are not chemical resistant, even to dry formulations.
  • Always wear at least a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, sturdy shoes or boots, and socks. The more layers of fabric and air between you and the pesticide, the better the protection.
  • Hands and forearms usually receive the most pesticide exposure. Wear chemical-resistant gloves, and tuck shirt sleeves into gloves. Gloves should reach up the forearm, with cuffs to catch runs and drips.
  • Canvas, cloth and leather shoes or boots are almost impossible to clean adequately. Wear chemical-resistant rubber boots that come up at least halfway to the knee if the lower legs and feet will be exposed to herbicides or residues.
Avoiding Contamination
  • Wear chemical-resistant gloves (rubber or plastic such as butyl, nitrile or polyvinyl chloride are common types).
  • Make sure gloves are clean, in good condition, and worn properly. Replace gloves often. Wash and dry hands before putting on gloves. Wash gloves before removing them.
  • Wash hands thoroughly before eating, drinking, using tobacco products or going to the bathroom.
  • Cuff gloves if pesticide is expected to run down towards the sleeves. Tuck sleeves into gloves.
eye and face protection_usda.jpgEye and Respiratory Protection
  • PPE labeling might require goggles, face shields or safety glasses with shields. Some formulas or handling activities pose more risks to eyes than others. Dusts, concentrates and fine sprays have the highest risk of causing pesticide exposure.
  • There are many types of dust-mist masks and respirators, all of which must fit and be used properly to be effective.
  • Respiratory protection is most important in enclosed spaces or when the applicator will be exposed to pesticides for a long time.
  • Pesticides that can volatilize require the use of respirators. Check label requirements.
Personal Clean-up After Herbicide Use
  • Wash gloves and footwear (if possible) with detergent and water before removing them.
  • Change clothing and put clothes used during application in a plastic box or bag, and keep it away from children or pets. Use a mild liquid detergent and warm water to wash your hands, forearms, face and any other body parts that may have been exposed to pesticides.
  • Do not wash work clothing and personal protective equipment in the same wash water with the family laundry. Handle with care and wash your hands after loading the machine.
  • If you have chemical-resistant items, follow the manufacturer's washing instructions. Wash boots and gloves with hot water and liquid detergent. Wash twice, once outside and once inside. Air-dry boots and gloves.
  • Rinse clothes in a machine or by hand.
  • Wash in plenty of water for dilution and agitation.
  • If using a washing machine, using heavy-duty liquid detergent in hot water for the wash cycles.
  • After washing the clothes, run the washer through one complete cycle with detergent and hot water, but no clothing, to clean the machine.
  • Hang items to dry if possible in plenty of fresh air. Do not hang in living areas.
  • Using a clothes dryer is acceptable, but over time the machine may become contaminated with pesticide residues.
Emergency Precautions and Equipment
Applicators must have easy access to emergency decontamination and first aid kits whenever they are applying herbicides, even if they are out in the field. All applicators should have access to an eyewash kit and at least two gallons of clean water.
Decontamination kits are available from many suppliers or can be assembled independently. Rubber buckets or tubs with tight sealing lids are convenient for homemade kits and should include:
  • Two (or more) 1 gallon containers filled with potable water,
  • Eyewash kits or eyewash bottles with buffered isotonic eyewash,
  • Hand or body soap (bring enough for all workers to thoroughly wash their hands when in the field),
  • Paper or other disposable towels,
  • A full tyvek coverall with foot covers,
  • A map and directions to the nearest medical facilities. Such maps should be posted in prominent locations at all preserve offices and work buildings. Include a copy as an Appendix to your weed control plan.
pesticide flag.jpgPosting Treated Areas
Federal requirements for posting treated areas, if any, are listed on the herbicide label. Glyphosate, triclopyr and most other herbicides used in natural areas have no federal posting requirements. Some municipalities and counties have stricter requirements. Always keep treated areas off limits to the public at least until the herbicide dries. Treated areas may be kept off limits for longer periods if the herbicide is persistent in the environment.
When posting areas that are accessible to the public (trails, visitor centers etc.), place notices at the usual points of entry or along the perimeter of treated sites. The posting should include a notice that the area has or will be treated, the name of the herbicide used, the date of the treatment, appropriate precautions to be taken, the date when re-entry is judged to be safe and a phone number for additional information. The notices should be removed after it is judged safe to re-enter the area.