Let’s face it: We’re all interested in sports, history, cooking, jazz, fishing, photography, woodworking, whatever. It’s a safe bet that any of these worthwhile endeavors garner more interest than safe pesticide use on the golf course. Even though we know it’s important, it doesn’t always get the attention it’s due.
When it comes to safety, the first consideration should be choice: choice of product, application technique, mixing operation and storage after use. Trade shows and field days offer the opportunity for honest, straightforward discussions with company representatives and university research and extension faculty. In addition, thoroughly read product labels provide guidelines for protective gear and equipment for application of the product. In terms of choice, selecting one product over another could help prevent accidents or other issues even before it’s in the tank or spreader.
Toxicity level is another part of choice. Be informed about the signal words – caution, warning, danger – on the products you choose. For example, soaps and oils for aphid control generally have lower toxicity levels compared to other pesticides. Another indicator of potential risk from the product is the LD 50, the lethal dose required to kill 50 percent of the test population
It goes without saying that we all have important body parts – face, hands, eyes, ears, etc. – that need to be protected during pesticide application, mixing and cleanup. Most people focus on safety during the application of a product, but protection during mixing and loading is just as important, possibly more so since this is when you’re dealing with the product in its most concentrated form and therefore poses the greatest risk from exposure. In terms of personal protection, a face shield, rubber apron, nitrile gloves and rubber boots, at a minimum, should be worn during mixing.
Generally, skin and eye exposure is the most common concern when applying and handling pesticides. The good news is that it is also the easiest route of entry into the body to prevent. Good protection for the forearm and hand can be facilitated with chemical-resistant gloves. Choose gloves made from unlined nitrile, butyl rubber or neoprene. Lined gloves are a bad choice, as they have the potential to absorb pesticides and then cause chronic exposure every time they are used.
Fortunately, quality unlined gloves are inexpensive. Depending on the manufacturer and specific product item as well as frequency of use, gloves may last from a day to a week or a month. If few applications are likely, “daily” gloves are fine, whereas frequent application schedules call for sturdier choices.
Regardless of the application type – spray, injection or basal drench – chemical-resistant footwear is important, but is often overlooked when working with pesticides. Boots can either promote or prevent pesticide exposure. Leather boots can easily absorb pesticide products. When liquid mixtures are spilled on them, it’s possible for the pesticide to soak through the leather and be absorbed by the skin. If this occurs, refer to the product label for information on how to reduce harm to your body. Ideally, you would have read the label beforehand, so immediate action can be taken.
Long-term pesticide poisoning results from small amounts of product being absorbed with each wearing of the boot. Retained in the leather itself, this poses an unacceptable risk to the pesticide user. To avoid this risk, wear chemical-resistant shoe coverings or boots. The pesticide label can be a helpful guide in this regard as well. In general, unlined rubber boots are preferred, as they offer better pesticide absorption prevention.
If you asked 100 people which body part is the most important, you’d probably get various answers, but I’d bet that at least half of them would say the eyes. When it comes to eye protection, look for options that prevent splashed liquids and particle drift of solids from getting through. Goggles are commonly available in an array of sizes and choices. Many are designed to fit over prescription eyeglasses, and some have shielded vents that allow for a reduction in fogging and the buildup of heat. The bottom line is that eye protection is vital; in some situations, pesticide mist or drift is fine enough that it is undetectable to the applicator.
The label may call for additional personal protective equipment, so it’s important to read it thoroughly.
Safety in action
The applicator should be fully focused on the task. Following is a list of some do’s and don’ts for before, during and after an application that can help increase safety.
- Get to know the equipment being used, i.e., how to adjust the nozzle or hopper box opening.
- Read the label again before opening the container.
- Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) called for on the label.
- Keep the spray wand at the proper angle.
- Perform a spray calibration check periodically, especially with equipment that is a few years old.
- Be aware of changing wind speed and direction.
- Close the container and stow it in a locked pesticide cabinet after mixing.
- Apply leftover pesticide volume to a site identified on the label.
- Post emergency contact information by every phone in the shop.
- Call a doctor or poison control center in the event of accidental exposure.
- Don’t remove important pieces of PPE, even when it’s hot.
- Don’t handle or apply pesticides if you are ill or not feeling well.
- Don’t eat, drink, smoke or use the restroom during a pesticide application.
- Don’t allow people or pets access to the area before the specified re-entry time.
- Don’t reuse empty pesticide containers.
- Don’t apply a product to sites not specified on the label.
- Don’t transfer pesticides to other containers, such as milk jugs or oilcans.
After the application
A good post-application protocol calls for three actions: clean the equipment, clean yourself, and properly store the unused product. After applying a pesticide with chemical-resistant gloves, it’s just good common sense to wash your hands. The guideline is to wash the palms, fingers, backs and forearms with hot soap and water three times, followed by a good rinsing. Again, washing before using the restroom, smoking or eating is wise. It’s best to refrain from touching materials that might absorb or hold pesticide residues, such as a steering wheel, CD player or ball cap, as this sort of contamination can lead to chronic exposure.
An essential for applicator safety is proper laundering of pesticide-contaminated clothing. Any clothing worn during an application should be deemed as contaminated and in need of washing. Always wash pesticide-contaminated clothing immediately after use (don’t let it lay in a heap for a week or leave it in your hamper) and keep it separate from other laundry. Start with a prerinse. Research at several land-grant universities has indicated that using hot water, heavy-duty liquid detergents and the maximum water level for the washing machine are most effective at removing pesticide residues from clothing.
Just like rinsing spray tanks, spreaders and backpack sprayers, removing possible residues from the washing machine should be a routine operation. When the wash cycle is complete, run the machine through a complete cycle with detergent and hot water without clothing.
Another pesticide safety factor is the storage of unused pesticides. Certain products may require unique storage conditions, but all products should be stored so they can be distinguished from one another and the labels can be easily read. A well-lit storage facility is called for in all cases. In general, good storage environments are those where products are maintained at moderate temperatures (60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit), low relative humidity and out of daylight. It should be obvious if bags are torn or plastic containers have been put away correctly.
A good storage unit can be securely locked and clearly posted as a pesticide storage area. It should be fire resistant and able to keep pesticides dry. In addition, it should contain a functioning exhaust fan for proper ventilation.
As need for additional space often arises, it’s wise to design the facility for adaptability and to allow room for expansion. Overall, the rule for creating good storage conditions is that they are stable, easy to use and accommodate the products that are used on the golf course.