REPORT: Occupational Pesticide Exposure Linked to COPD
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According to the results of a recent study posted in Thorax on Jan. 26, workers exposed to pesticides may face a higher risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The study used UK Biobank data of nearly 95,000 participants, then segmented the data for occupational exposure to 12 agents, such as biological dusts, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and chlorinated solvents. The findings showed a high correlation between workers with a sustained, high-intensity exposure to pesticides and those who had developed COPD. 

Workers with sustained exposure had a 32 percent higher risk of developing COPD, while those exposed at any point during their career were 13 percent more likely to develop the disease.

Additionally, current smokers were also 17 percent more likely to develop the disease than former smokers and never smokers.

“Occupational exposures are important, preventable causes of COPD,” the researchers wrote.

“Focused preventive strategies for workers exposed to pesticides can prevent the associated COPD burden.”

So, what does that mean to for you and your team if you work in areas treated by pesticide? And, what other types of work may lead to COPD?

Let’s break it down.

MSHA Silica Standard COPD - Coal Mining - Worksite Medical

COPD in the United States


Almost 16 million Americans have COPD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms of the respiratory disease include:

  • frequent coughing or wheezing,
  • excess mucus,
  • shortness of breath, and
  • difficulty taking deep breaths.

Workplace agents associated with COPD are mineral dusts, such as coal-mine dust, silica, and asbestos. The risks of COPD increase substantially in industries such as mining, blast furnaces, steelworks, construction, and auto repair.

Not surprisingly, farming also increased your risk due to pesticides used on crops.

Although there is no cure for COPD, it can be treated. Also, as an employer, you can take steps to ensure that your team isn’t put at risk in the first place. 

Mitigating the Risks 


There is a dichotomy of standards for pesticide protection, as well as testing standards put in place by OSHA to improve medical surveillance.

To start, agricultural workers in the field are protected under the EPA’s Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). However, OSHA regulations under the OSH Act do apply when workers not in the field may be exposed to pesticides and also when workers in the field are exposed to hazardous chemicals other than pesticides.

These proven methods of protection below represent the best practices of both standards: 

  • Respirators: Once you have evaluated which respirators are appropriate for the specific pesticide product used (typical shown on labeling), employers must ensure that employees have received respirator fit testing, training, and medical evaluation before use. 
  • Hazard Communication: Information about pesticides used on the job should be displayed in a central location, along with an explanation of symptoms associated with exposure.
  • Labeling and storage – Employers should provide workers with access to copies of Safety Data Sheets and pesticide labeling for products that are used on the job and to which workers may be exposed.



In general, OSHA’s silica standard, which has grown much more strict in recent years, requires testing for employees exposed to silica dust at above the action level for 30 days or more per year. That action level amount is, quite literally, less than a handful of dust (100 micrograms per cubic meter of air), which showcases the dangers of silica and risk of COPD.

For mining, which is covered by MSHA, similar protections exist.

Medical surveillance testing is important (and required) in every industry, but you’ll also need to ensure that all respirators used fit tightly and work properly. And, you’ll need to ensure that your team members are physical able to wear them at work, which can be done fairly easily online from any device. You also need to have a written respiratory protection plan in place for when OSHA inspectors arrive on-site.

It’s more important than every before to protect your team, and your company, from the risks of COPD. Are you in compliance?

If not, were here to help with on-site medical surveillance testing. Schedule now, or get your risk-free quote below. We’re here to keep you and your team safe and OSHA-compliant.



About Worksite Medical

In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees.

Worksite Medical makes that program easier with mobile medical testing.

We conduct on-site respirator fit tests, as well as audiometric exams, pulmonary function tests and heavy metal lab work, right on your job site. We also keep accurate, easy-to-access medical records for your convenience. You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.

With Worksite Medical, a mobile medical testing unit — we can bring all the resources of a lab to you. Our certified lab technicians can perform both qualitative and quantitative respirator tests to ensure a perfect fit.

Protect your team and your workplace now with Worksite Medical. Not sure what you need? Try our medical testing wizard here.

Give us a call at 1-844-622-8633, or complete the form below to schedule an on-site visit or to get your free quote!

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