Feb 18, 2020
Phone app to navigate pesticide safety

Between 2010 and 2018, some 740 cases of pesticide-related illnesses were confirmed among farmworkers in Washington state, according to Joanne Bonnar Prado, epidemiologist with the Washington State Department of Health. Of these workers, 90% preferred the Spanish language and 79% said that they were unable to access, understand or act on pesticide label instructions, she said.

This issue has prompted the University of Washington’s Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety & Health Center to begin developing a phone app which can provide easily accessible pesticide information in both English and Spanish, helping to de-mystify those complicated labels.

“A pesticide label is long and technical, like a drug package insert,” explained Kit Galvin, a research scientist and industrial hygienist who serves as principal investigator for the project.

“The label is in English and most of our labor-intensive workforce here has Spanish as their primary language. It’s difficult for them to understand the label.” Yet, the information contained on these pesticide labels – such as instructions for proper use, and health and safety considerations – is required information for farmworkers to have.

Another consideration is that field managers often are Spanish-speaking, too, and are frequently put in the position of trying to translate technical information on the spot. Also, the manager may not always be around when workers are trying to figure out instructions.

Most of the 740 pesticide-related illnesses confirmed in Washington, including skin or eye irritation and inhalation, were not considered severe, according to Prado. However, “they are all important and can still cause people a lot of problems,” she said.

Proper pesticide use is crucial for the overall health and well-being of field personnel and to avoid repercussions for growers, Galvin said in a conversation with the Fruit Growers News. Her comments followed a presentation by the Agricultural Safety & Health Center at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s Annual Meeting & Northwest Horticultural Expo in December in Wenatchee, Washington.

Just one example of these hundreds of pesticide-related incidents was a recent episode in an eastern Washington tree fruit orchard, Galvin said. According to the report, the crew was not wearing proper respiratory equipment. The grower received a citation and a lengthy process began to retrain crew members and managers, to remediate the problem.

As early as 2006, the Agricultural Safety & Health Center staff began doing “expert interviews” in the field on methods to minimize pesticide exposure. Through this process, they became aware of the issue with labels.

“A common theme was that we need to have pesticide labels and the health and safety information in Spanish,” Galvin said. After initial consideration of a more cumbersome, web-based source, in 2014 the center began a pilot project for a phone app, with funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health.

“Smart phones seemed better. They would work anytime, anywhere and you wouldn’t need to connect to the internet,” she said.

After initial app development, phones were given in 2016 to 10 people in the field, each with an app offering bilingual health and safety information on a couple dozen pesticide products for apple orchards. Translations for the app were done by a lead translator, with a consensus by bilingual, bicultural personnel.

“You can’t do the translations literally. You have to do them interpretively to get a true translation,” Galvin noted.

The pilot project continued in 2018 as a “beta version evaluation” with additional farmworkers and managers testing the app on their own phones.

And what was the reaction?

“People were very receptive, very happy to see it,” Galvin said. “We heard comments like, ‘Now that I can read the Spanish, I can understand the English better.’ … The desire for this (app) is high.”

Additional funding and support for the pilot project has been provided by the University of Washington CoMotion, the state of Washington Department of Labor & Industries Safety & Health Investment Projects, and the Washington State Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

Rinsing residue is a critical step in pesticide safety procedures.

By the end of this winter, the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety & Health Center will make an app available for workers in the apple and pear industry throughout Washington state, Galvin said. It will contain details for some 40 commonly used products. The app will not require an internet connection nor Wi-Fi reception which can be difficult to get in some rural areas.

Once the app is accessed, an individual can simply choose English or Spanish, and even switch back and forth between languages, as desired. Then, the individual can search by product name, EPA product registration number or manufacturer for the product of interest. This will bring up an explanation of safety, health and environmental protection procedures. The app is not a substitute for the pesticide label, Galvin said. It is for informational purposes only, while the product label “is the law.”

Another app, offering bilingual information on pesticides for specialty crops in Washington state, is expected to be rolled out by the center in 2020-2022, Galvin said.

“One day, our goal is to have the app available nationally,” she added. However, this will require time and be a more expensive proposition, with additional funding needed, she acknowledged.

For more information on this project, visit the website at https://deohs.washington.edu/pnash/bilingual-pesticide-safety-projectt or email [email protected]

— Christine Corbett Conklin, FGN correspondent


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