Pesticide Exposure: harmonised guidance increases protection for operators, workers, residents and bystanders

New guidance from EFSA sets out for the first time a harmonised methodology for calculating exposure to pesticides for four major population groups - operators, workers, residents and bystanders.

The methodology is designed to help risk assessors and industry applicants evaluate the risk to people who come into contact with pesticides as part of their job or through physical proximity (where they live, work or go to school) to areas such as fields where pesticides are used. It evaluates non-dietary exposure to these chemicals, mainly by inhalation and absorption through the skin but also due to potential ingestion via hand-to-mouth transfer.

As part of this guidance, EFSA has developed a user-friendly software tool that carries out these exposure assessments with a single mouse click. By inputting key data, the calculator indicates whether the level of pesticide exposure for a particular group under specific circumstances is above or below previously set guidance values for acceptable exposure.  The tool incorporates a high safety factor by considering both realistic and worst case scenarios for exposure assessments. All evaluations assume that operators and workers follow recognised safety procedures, known as good plant protection practice, when dealing with pesticides.

The guidance and tool make an important contribution to safeguarding public health by calculating non-dietary exposure to pesticides with more accuracy than ever before.

Huge step forward

The guidance covers four main population groups:

  • Operators – farming professionals who carry out activities linked to the application of pesticides, i.e. mixing and loading of pesticides into machinery, as well as operating, cleaning, emptying or repairing such equipment.
  • Workers – a person who, as part of their job, enters an area previously treated with pesticides or who handles crops treated with pesticides.
  • Residents – those living, working or attending school near an area where pesticides are used and who take no protective measures, such as wearing special clothing, to reduce exposure.
  • Bystanders – those who may be in or next to an area treated with pesticides and who take no protective measures.

EFSA has drawn on several previously developed exposure assessment models and around 20 databases to deliver this harmonised approach. Scientists from the Authority selected and refined the most robust of these to produce a methodology that delivers the most precise and comprehensive safety assessments of non-dietary pesticide exposure currently available.  

Jose Tarazona, head of EFSA’s Pesticide Unit, said: “The guidance represents a huge step forward for the harmonisation of pesticide exposure assessment for operators, workers, residents and bystanders at an EU level. EFSA has created a data hub and tool that provide a one-stop-shop for those assessing the risks from exposure to pesticides. The scientific community now has a common language and set of definitions with which to debate and further refine the approach.”

Call for action

EFSA highlights that the guidance contains a number of uncertainties due to a lack of data – particularly for the assessment of resident exposure. The Authority is calling on scientists from Member States, research bodies and industry to fill these data gaps as part of an on-going review of the guidance.

“The guidance provides a strong foundation but it is a work in progress,” added Dr Tarazona. “Importantly, it pinpoints where data gaps exist. We encourage all members of the scientific community to generate and supply the necessary data to further strengthen this methodology.”

Media contacts

EFSA Media Relations Office 
Tel. +39 0521 036 149