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Sprayer Pesticide Handler and Vegetation Applicator Job Description, Career as a Sprayer Pesticide Handler and Vegetation Applicator, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: None

Salary: Median—$12.30 per hour

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Pesticide handlers, sprayers, and applicators who work on crops and vegetation mix pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or insecticides and apply them through sprays, dusts, or vapors. These chemicals kill pests and insect infestations that devastate crops, gardens, and trees.

Some pesticide handlers work for chemical lawn service firms. They are responsible for inspecting lawns for insects and other problems and then apply fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals to spur new growth and kill weeds, diseases, or insects. These workers are contracted to work on private lawns, private corporate property, and office parks.

The growing trend toward biological pest management means that more and more individuals, corporations, and farms are turning to beneficial insects, mites, and nematodes to manage agricultural, horticultural, and plant pests. Instead of using potentially harmful chemicals, this industry uses biological pest management techniques, which are considered safer for humans, animal life, and the environment.

Pesticide handlers usually are self-employed, working on a contract basis.

A pesticide sprayer prepares to spray crops by pouring insecticide into a tank on the side of a plane. (© Rogate Joe/Sygma/Corbis.)

Education and Training Requirements

There are no formal educational requirements for pesticide handlers, but most states require certification for workers who apply pesticides and insecticides. Prospective workers should check with their state for certification requirements, and candidates should be aware that certification usually includes the successful completion of a test on the proper and safe use and disposal of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides.

Pesticide handlers must be thoroughly knowledgeable of the chemicals they are handling as well as proper application and disposal procedures. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for agricultural pesticides, and they provide guidelines on how agricultural workers and pesticide handlers can protect themselves from exposure to pesticides and insecticides. This information is part of the certification examination. Until pesticide handlers can pass the certification process, they usually assist and train under a certified handler.

Getting the Job

Most pesticide handlers start out as trainees. Candidates can apply to work as a laborer on a large farming cooperative. There they can learn about agricultural pesticides and train on proper application and disposal procedures. Prospective pesticide handlers can also learn about pesticides and insecticides working with large ground maintenance crews that work on a variety of vegetation. Once interested candidates pass a state certification examination, they can search newspaper want ads, Internet job sites, or job listings on the Web sites of professional organizations in the field.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Most pesticide workers are self-employed and work on a contract basis. Experienced workers can build their own business and employ other pesticide handlers and ground maintenance workers.

There are always employment opportunities for pesticide handlers, sprayers, and applicators, with occupations in this field expected to grow faster than the average through 2014. One practice that is growing especially fast is the use of organic pesticides and other environmentally safe ways to combat the growth of invasive weeds and the proliferation of insects and pests. With stringent regulations on the kinds, use, and disposal of chemicals used on the environment, workers who are familiar with various methods will find increasing opportunities in the future.

Working Conditions

For pesticide handlers specializing in agriculture or horticulture, working outdoors in all kinds of weather is to be expected. The work is seasonal, in that the work is concentrated on planting and harvesting seasons. It can be physically demanding, and workers can be exposed to dangerous chemicals. For that reason, stringent safety precautions must be followed, which means wearing bulky equipment and clothing.

Where to Go for More Information

Association of Biocontrol Producers
2230 Martin Dr.
Tustin Ranch, CA 92782
(714) 544-8295

National Pest Management Association
9300 Lee Hwy., Ste. 301
Fairfax, VA 22031
(703) 352-6792

North American Weed Management Association
P.O. Box 1910
461 E. Agate
Granby, CO 80446-1910
(970) 887-1229

Earnings and Benefits

The median hourly salary for pesticide handlers is $12.30, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because most handlers are self-employed, they are responsible for their own health and dental insurance and pension. Even in small ground maintenance firms, benefits may not be available.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesAgribusiness, Environment, and Natural Resources