Pesticide Applicator Education Produces Positive Outcomes

Posted: December 10, 2014

The Pesticide Applicator Short Course is a four-day class to prepare professional grounds managers to take pesticide certification exams.
The bad old days: This 1935 photo shows a one-man spraying outfit operating in Delaware County ... We've come a long way!

The bad old days: This 1935 photo shows a one-man spraying outfit operating in Delaware County ... We've come a long way!

In Pennsylvania, commercial businesses and municipalities are required to certify and train employees responsible for pesticide applications. The state Department of Agriculture administers a certification program that includes written exams.

Penn State Extension educators have provided pre-exam training for a number of years. Two classes are offered in southeast Pennsylvania each year. Class location is varied each time to increase coverage and convenience for students. More than 500 local professionals have attended the course over the years.

The class not only offers information for exam preparation, but it also provides in-depth information about personal safety, environmental implications of pesticide use, the importance of proper diagnosis in the management process, and an emphasis on integrated pest management techniques.

We’ve been able to track the number of students who pass their exams and become certified applicators. For example, in 2014 83 percent of the students who took exams became certified, resulting in 46 new certified pesticide applicators.

There have been other positive outcomes from the class (in addition to certification) that we found through evaluation. Ninety-six percent of students surveyed felt better qualified to properly apply pesticides after completing the course.

Many of the students had applied pesticides, either at work or at home, prior to class participation. So we asked them about some standard pesticide safety practices that they “always” used. We were surprised to learn how many were unaware and unsafe.

Less than half of class members wore long-sleeved clothing when applying pesticides (which is a minimum recommendation for protective equipment), had a spill kit or containment plan in the case of an accident, or calibrated sprayer equipment each year before use. After class, over 70 percent said they intended to change these pesticide safety practices, based on what they learned in class.

Since pesticides continue to be an important tool for plant protection, it is important to train pesticide applicators to use them safely and appropriately. Our results indicate that for all practices surveyed, students intend to make positive changes to improve pesticide safety practices.