Pesticides are by definition hazardous substances. After all, their whole purpose is to kill unwanted flora and fauna, such as weeds, insects and vermin. But pesticides can also negatively impact the health of workers who work with or around these substances as well as the rest of the environment. As a result, the use, storage and disposal of pesticides is heavily regulated by environmental laws, making compliance particularly tricky. So here’s a look at the regulation of pesticides across Canada and the steps you can take to comply with the various requirements.
Defining Our Terms
This article focuses on the use of pesticides in companies that aren’t professional pesticide applicators, who are highly regulated. In addition, we’ll use the term “pesticides” to refer to all substances intended to kill various kinds of pests, including herbicides, rodenticides, etc.
DANGERS OF PESTICIDE USE
The use of pesticides poses a threat to both the environment and the workers who use or work around these substances:
Environment. Pesticides can impact the quality of the environment, especially water. In fact, pesticides have been identified as one of the 15 key threats to Canadian freshwater quality (See, Threats to Sources of Drinking Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Health in Canada). As a result, the National Pesticides Monitoring and Surveillance Network was established in 2003 to provide information for:
- Determining spatial and temporal trends of pesticides;
- Evaluating pest management strategies and pest control product risk reduction measures;
- Evaluating impacts to the environment of pest control products;
- Ensuring the compatibility of federal and provincial measurements; and
- Developing national environmental quality guidelines for current-use pest control products.
Workers. Workers can get exposed to pesticides in a variety of ways. For example, workers who work in treated areas risk exposure through direct contact with pesticide residues. Workers who mix, load or apply pesticides can be exposed due to spills, splashes and defective, missing or inadequate PPE. And workers can bring pesticides home with them in the form of residue on their tools, clothes, shoes and skin, thus exposing their families to these hazardous substances.
Pesticide Use Resources ON: Pesticides
Pesticide Use Resources
Exposure to pesticides can be very hazardous. For example, a worksite in Manitoba was fumigated and the fumigation company left behind some spray for the workers to use themselves. But it didn’t provide an MSDS for the substance. After a worker sprayed the aerosol can, a co-worker reacted to the fumes with hives, trouble breathing, coughing, headaches and eye irritation.
In addition, a panel of experts in Ontario recently released a report on the exposure of workers and members of the general public to an herbicide found in Agent Orange and used in the province over a period of about 30 years. The WSIB is reviewing the report as part of its work to adjudicate claims from workers who have health issues that may have been caused by workplace exposure to this herbicide.
And a recent report on farm workers in the US shows that they’re regularly exposed to toxic levels of pesticides on the job. Such exposure has lead to:
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Shortness of breath;
- Seizures; and
- Chronic health problems, such as cancer, infertility and other reproductive problems, neurological disorders and respiratory conditions.
SOURCES OF PESTICIDE REGULATION
The use of pesticides in Canada is generally regulated under three kinds of laws (see this chart for the key laws in each jurisdiction):
Federal Environmental Law
The federal Pest Control Products Act (PCPA) and its related regulations regulate all pesticides imported into, sold, manufactured or used in Canada. Only pesticides that are registered for use under the PCPA can be used in this country. The registration process enables the federal government to manage the use of pesticides on a substance-by-substance basis. So if the government determines that a particular pesticide poses unacceptable risks to the environment and human health, it can deny registration of that pesticide and thus make the chemical unlawful to use anywhere within Canada.
Provincial and Territorial Environmental Law
Canadian jurisdictions bar the use of any pesticides that aren’t federally registered under the PCPA. But they may also have their own laws on the sale, use, storage, transportation and disposal of registered pesticides (and their containers) within their borders and these laws can be stricter than the PCPA. For example, several jurisdictions have specifically banned the use of pesticides for so-called “cosmetic” purposes, such as to maintain lawns and landscaping. (To learn which ones have such bans, see “LAWSCAPE: Bans on Non-Essential Use of Pesticides.”)
Eight jurisdictions—BC, NB, NT, NU, ON, PEI, QC and SK—have statutes and regulations specifically dedicated to pesticides and their use. For example, in Ontario, general pesticide use is regulated by the Pesticides Act, while in BC, it’s regulated by the Integrated Pest Management Act.
Three jurisdictions—AB, NL and YT—regulate pesticide use under their general environmental law. Typically, a section of the general environmental law mentions pesticide use while more detailed requirements are spelled out in a special pesticide regulation under that law. For example, in Alberta, pesticide use is regulated by Part 8, Division 2 of the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, the Pesticide Sales, Handling, Use and Application Regulation and the Environmental Code of Practice for Pesticides.
Manitoba and Nova Scotia use both approaches. Pesticide use in Manitoba is regulated by the Pesticides and Fertilizers Control Act and related regulations as well as by the Pesticides Regulation under the Environment Act. And in Nova Scotia, pesticide use is limited by the Non-essential Pesticides Control Act and otherwise regulated by Part VII of the Environment Act and the Pesticide Regulations.
Insider Says: Although some municipalities have enacted bylaws on the use of pesticides, such bylaws are usually very limited and often apply only to the use of pesticides on lawns and in gardens.
BC and Yukon are the only two jurisdictions that include specific pesticide requirements in their OHS laws. The pesticide requirements in Sec. 13.34 of Yukon’s OHS Regulations are very narrow and only apply to the loading of pesticides in airplanes. In contrast, Secs. 6.70 to 6.102 of BC’s OHS Regulations contain fairly detailed pesticide requirements that cover:
- Labels, signs and MSDSs;
- Informing workers of the application of pesticides;
- Mixing, loading and applying pesticides;
- Personal hygiene;
- Avicides, predicides, rodenticides and insecticidal baits; and
- Storage of pesticides.
TAKE 5 STEPS
To ensure that you comply with all of the pesticide requirements contained in the above laws, take the following five steps:
Step #1: Determine if Pesticide Use Is Permitted
Before you use pesticides, make sure that you’re allowed to do so. Whether the law permits you to use pesticides may depend on where and why you want to use them. For example, as mentioned above, several jurisdictions have specifically banned the “cosmetic” use of pesticides. So if your only reason for wanting to use a pesticide is to keep the landscaping around the company’s grounds looking pretty, you may not be able to do so and may have to use alternative measures.
Step #2: Determine if Pesticide Use Is Needed
Even if you’re legally permitted to use a pesticide, you shouldn’t necessarily do so. Many jurisdictions have indicated that avoiding the use of pesticides unless absolutely necessary is the preferred approach. In fact, many pesticide laws require promotion of the use of non-toxic alternatives to pesticides. For example, the PCPA requires the federal Minister of the Environment to “encourage the development and implementation of innovative, sustainable pest management strategies” [Sec. 4(2)(b)].
So instead of immediately turning to a pesticide to address a pest problem in your workplace, consider safer alternatives, such as integrated pest management (IPM), which involves minimal use of pesticides. And if you must use a pesticide to get rid of, say, mice in your warehouse, consider using IPM to prevent a recurrence of your pest problem.
Insider Says: For more on IPM, see “Pesticides: How to Get Rid of Pests Without Endangering Workers,” which has a sidebar on minimizing pesticide use with an IPM program.
Step #3: If You Must Use a Pesticide, Use the “Safest” One in the Safest Way
If you have to use a pesticide, try to use one with the lowest risks possible when it comes to both toxicity and exposure. For example, tamper-resistant bait traps, silica gels, boric acid or soap-based products are safer to use than pesticide sprays that can spread in the air and coat surfaces.
Also, to minimize the impact of and exposure to pesticides, use them in the least intrusive manner possible. For example, only apply them where needed. So if you have ants in the workplace’s loading dock only, don’t apply a pesticide throughout the building. Note that the laws on pesticide use generally bar the use of any pesticide in a manner that has or is likely to have an “adverse affect” on or “impair the quality” of the environment or human health and safety. So don’t spray pesticides near bodies of water. Instead, use an alternative pest control method in such areas.
Insider Says: Note that although your workers may be qualified to use “over-the-counter” pesticides, you may have to hire a professional pesticide contractor to use certain kinds of commercial or industrial pesticides.
Step #4: Develop & Implement Pesticide Procedures
To protect both the environment and workers, it’s important to have written procedures for the safe use, storage and disposal of pesticides. These procedures should comply with the requirements in the pesticide use laws as well as the manufacturer’s recommendations. Although the requirements may vary by jurisdiction and product, your pesticides procedures should generally cover:
- Selection of appropriate pesticide or pest control measure;
- Handling, mixing and application of pesticides;
- Posting of warning signs advising workers and visitors of where and when pesticides have been used;
- Access to areas that have been treated with pesticides;
- Proper use of PPE;
- Personal hygiene after use of or exposure to pesticides, including wash facilities, showers and proper laundering of clothing.
- Cleanup and disposal of spilled pesticides;
- Storage of pesticides, such as pesticides shouldn’t be stored where food is prepared or stored;
- Disposal of pesticides and pesticide containers; and
- Summoning of first aid and medical assistance for workers overexposed to pesticides.
Step #5: Train Workers on Pesticides
If workers use or apply pesticides or could be exposed to them in the workplace, you should train them on pesticides. Such training should cover all aspects of the pesticide procedures as well as:
- How workers can be exposed to pesticides;
- The hazards posed by pesticides;
- Signs and symptoms of overexposure to pesticides; and
- What to do if they exhibit such signs or symptoms.
Although the trend is towards reduced use of pesticides in general, there may be circumstances in which you need to use such substances in your workplace. In that case, it’s critical that you comply with the laws that regulate the use, storage and disposal of pesticides so that you adequately protect both the environment and workers exposed to these chemicals.