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AgCenter provides safety training for migrant workers

News Release Distributed 09/11/14

BATON ROUGE, La. – Preparing 300 farm workers to do their job safely in two days requires planning and patience, but when those workers don’t speak English, it takes much more.

Harvest season in many farming communities mean the influx of Hispanic workers, and this year more than 300 of these workers on the Black Gold Farm near Delhi will know the “do’s and don’ts” when handling pesticides.

LSU AgCenter pesticide safety education coordinator Kim Pope said the Worker Protection Standard, which is an Environmental Protection Agency requirement, is a way to make farm workers aware of the dangers of pesticides and train them on pesticide safety. It also shows them what steps to take in order to avoid exposing their family and others to pesticide residue on their clothing, equipment and their bodies.

“We were happy that the manager of the huge sweet potato farm asked us to provide this training to this group of workers,” Pope said. “This is a standard training program for all farm workers to get them the knowledge to work around pesticides used on the farm.”

Pope said this is the first time she’s been asked to train Hispanic workers, and not being a Spanish speaker would have been a major challenge without some help.

In addition to help from AgCenter agents in the area who routinely provide this training to their growers, she also was in need of an interpreter.

“We were fortunate to have Mario Saavedra, an inspector with the Texas Department of Agriculture come in and translate for us,” she said.

AgCenter agents who provided assistance with the training included Bruce Garner and Myrl Sistrunk from West Carroll Parish, Carol Pinnell-Alison from Franklin Parish and Keith Collins from Richland Parish along with AgCenter entomologist Sebe Brown from the Macon Ridge Reach Station, near Winnsboro.

Garner said he regularly holds the worker protection training in his office or on the farm at the request of a farmer, but never anything of this magnitude.

“We usually train from five to 10 workers at a time, and the training session is accomplished in a few hours,” Garner said. “But to train 300 workers in a weekend is a massive effort and a true logistical challenge.”

In order to make the training more beneficial to the workers, they were divided into four groups, Pope said.

Garner said having personnel from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry was a huge benefit to the effort.

Sistrunk, who works with sweet potato growers, said this training program has been in place for about 20 years and is helpful for growers as well as their employees.

“The training helps them to be safe in farm operations, whether they are classified as a pesticide handler who applies pesticides or a worker who helps plant or gather the crops,” Sistrunk said. “This training has been a requirement for a number of years for farm operations when they have employees who are not immediate family members.”

The training covers a variety of subjects, such as where safety information is posted on the farm, the types of personal protective equipment needed, it gives notification of treated areas, how to use decontamination supplies and explains the information exchange needed during emergency situations.

Pope said even though sweet potatoes are grown on the Black Gold Farm, the training is the same for any farming operation.

“Producers must ensure that employees are properly trained as a pesticide handler or a worker, depending on their job with the operation,” Sistrunk said. “Certain information must be covered to minimize exposure to pesticides, protect against exposure to pesticides and explain what to do in case of exposure.”

Pope said farm workers in Louisiana are required to complete this training every three years. But if they change employers, they need to know information that applies to that particular farm operation and will have to be retrained.

Information on the worker protection program is available from any local AgCenter office.

Johnny Morgan

Last Updated: 9/11/2014 9:30:43 AM

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