Recognizing that farming is among the nation's most hazardous occupations, North Carolina Cooperative Extension offers educational programs to help farmers, farm workers and their families lower their risk of injury, illness and death.

Its latest tool in this effort is a kit of easy-to-use materials to teach pesticide safety to Spanish-speaking agricultural workers with limited formal education.

Extension tested the kit with workers and trainers to make sure the educational materials were simple yet effective. It also was reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that it met the federal Worker Protection Standard's training requirements. The WPS calls for agricultural employers, owners, managers and labor contractors to provide training, not only to those who handle pesticides, but to all the people who are involved in the production of agricultural plants.

Table-top flipcharts are the kit's centerpieces. On the side that faces the trainer, there are lesson plans, while on the side that faces the audience, there are colorful photographs illustrating the trainer’s message.

The kit also comes with one-page illustrated sheets — available in Spanish and English — related to some of North Carolina's most important crops. The sheets list common pesticides used at various stages of crop growth, indicate each pesticide's toxicity level, and spell out how long areas treated by each pesticide should be off-limits. There are also realistic drawings that illustrate the symptoms a worker might experience because of unsafe exposure and phone numbers for the worker to call in case of problems.

Right now, materials are available covering tobacco, sweet potato and tomato crops. Material for other crops — cucumbers, green peppers, grapes, landscape, Christmas trees, blueberries, strawberries and apples — will be available for the 2011 growing season.

A Web site for dissemination of the toolkit for tobacco, sweet potato and tomato crops will be available later this summer.

The toolkit was funded by a grant from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Pesticide Environmental Trust Fund and developed by Greg Cope, Julia Storm and Catherine LeProvost with the College’s Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology.

The three introduced the materials during a train-the-trainer session in June 2010, when dozens of Extension agents, state agriculture and labor officials, community health and migrant education workers, a fertilizer dealer and others came to Raleigh for a one-day train-the-trainer session.