Operator responsibilities regarding pesticides

You are a pesticide operator if your work involves the placing on the market or use of pesticides, also known as plant protection products, used to protect crops against harmful pests and diseases or to control weeds. Examples include insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, molluscicides, and plant growth regulators.

Legal Requirement – Register with DAERA

The Official Controls (Plant protection products) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 contain a legal requirement for all pesticide operators to register with the Competent Authority (DAERA).

If your work involves pesticides, you must comply with the Regulations. This includes:

  • businesses who produce, manufacture, process, import, store, distribute and sell pesticides for professional use, their components and adjuvants.
  • businesses involved in the supply chain of amateur use (home garden) pesticides.
  • users of pesticides in a professional capacity i.e. in the course of their work. This includes operators, technicians, employers and self-employed people, in all sectors including agriculture, amenity and forestry.

More information on the Pesticide Official Controls is available here.

Click here to register online and for additional guidance.

Legal requirement – approved certificate of competence for applying professional pesticides

Operators who apply professional use pesticides must undertake an assessment and obtain an approved specified certificate of competence. If you are not applying the pesticides yourself, you are responsible for ensuring the person applying them on your land has the necessary certificate of competence. This is a legal requirement under the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012.

Training and assessment are available for a range of pesticide application methods including knapsack, boom sprayer, weed wiper, orchard sprayer or granular applicator. 

You can view here a full list of the specified certificates which meet the legal requirements under the Sustainable Use Directive. The certificates listed are currently only available through City and Guilds or Lantra.

It is essential to ensure that training is delivered fully and that the certificate of competence received following the assessment will meet the legal requirements. If not, then any certificate or records of training received will not be considered valid during an inspection.

Pesticide training, assessment and certification are available from a range of providers including the College of Agriculture Food & Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) which provides training, assessment and certification by City & Guilds at both Greenmount and Loughry Campuses. You can enrol for training, assessment and certification on the CAFRE website.

If you have any queries about booking a place on this course, you can contact Industry Training Administration by emailing Industry.TrainingAdmin@daera-ni.gov.uk or calling 028 9442 6880.

Legal Requirement – Record Keeping

The Plant Protection Product Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 contain legal requirements for pesticide operators to keep records.

Producers, suppliers, distributors, importers, and exporters of plant protection products are required to keep records of the plant protection products they produce, import, export, store or place on the market for at least 5 years.

A professional user of plant protection products must keep for at least 3 years, records of the plant protection products they use, containing the name of the plant protection product, the time and the dose of application, the area and the crop where the plant protection product was used.

Legal requirement – supply and use of authorised pesticides

The Plant Protection Product Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 contain legal requirements regarding the sale and use of pesticides. Before any pesticide product can be used, sold, supplied or stored it must be authorised for use in Northern Ireland.

All pesticides must also be used in accordance with the conditions set by their authorisation and as specified on the product labelling. DAERA has produced guidance on Understanding a Pesticide Product Label.

You can check whether a pesticide is authorised for use in Northern Ireland by searching the “Pesticides Register of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Authorised Products” held and maintained by the Health and Safety Executive’s Chemicals Regulation Division (HSE) available at: https://secure.pesticides.gov.uk/pestreg/default.asp. Copies of authorisation notifications are available to download.

You can also check if a pesticide has an Off-label Use Authorisation by searching The “Register of Extension of Authorisation for minor use in Great Britain and Northern Ireland” (formerly known as 'SOLAs') available at https://secure.pesticides.gov.uk/offlabels/search.asp

As Extensions of Authorisations for Minor Use (EAMU) conditions will not be given on the product label provided by pesticide manufacturers it is essential that anyone who needs to use a pesticide product in accordance with an Extension of Authorisation must read the text of the Extension of Authorisation notice before commencing any spraying operation.

Any authorisations granted under an Article 53 “Emergency Authorisation” will also be uploaded to the EAMU Register and be held there only for the period of time the authorisation is valid.

These databases identify the extent of the authorisation as GB+NI, GB only or NI only. Please be aware that there can be a time lag between new authorisations being issued and their details appearing on the website databases. A similar delay can also occur when changes are made to existing authorisations.

There are a number of other databases available on the HSE website for your information. Search via the database index page at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/pesticides/databases/index.htm.

The list includes:

  • Adjuvant Information Database
  • Prohibited and Non-Authorised Pesticides (in GB/NI)
  • Products subject to a 'No-Spray' Buffer Zone

Legal requirement - provision of information to customers at point of sale

Anyone who makes pesticides available on the market, for purchase by the end user, including retailers, and those who sell over the internet must ensure that there is sufficient staff holding specified certificates available at the time of the sale to provide adequate information to customers as regards the products use, health and environmental risks and safety instructions.

The requirement to employ sufficient certificated staff does not apply to a distributor that is a micro-distributor i.e. a business that had an annual turnover which did not exceed 2 million Euros in its preceding financial year; has fewer than 10 employees for a greater number of weeks in the year than it has 10 or more employees; and only offers for sale non-professional products.

The BASIS certificate in Crop Protection (Sale and Supply) meets the legal requirements under the Sustainable Use Directive for those involved in sale and supply of professional use pesticides. There are many variants of the Certificate in Crop Protection (sale and supply) ranging from ‘full’ certificates offered in Agriculture and Commercial Horticulture to more specific certificates for those who advise on specific areas such as Amenity Horticulture.

A full list of BASIS Certificates in Crop Protection (sale and supply) and certificates relating to the sale and supply of pesticides that are authorised for non-professional use, considered to meet legal requirements can be found on the HSE website: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pesticides/resources/R/Recognised_certificates.pdf

Legal Requirement – the safe use of Pesticides

The Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012 requires that anyone who uses, handles or stores pesticides authorised for professional use must take all reasonable precautions to protect human health and the environment. The Water Catchment Partnership has produced two leaflets providing advice on pesticides for water protection.

Applications of pesticides authorised for professional use must be kept on target i.e. confined to the crop or area intended to be treated and products stored in areas constructed so as to prevent unwanted releases.

Where there is a risk to water and where there is a choice of products professional users are required to, so far as is reasonably practicable, give preference to particular types of products which pose a lower risk to water.

Professional users must ensure that amounts used and the frequency of use is as low as reasonably practicable in the following cases: use in certain listed areas used by the public (particularly by sensitive or ‘at risk’ groups of people); use in areas protected for their nature conservation value; use on certain man-made surfaces close to or with a high risk of run-off to water; or use in recently treated areas which will be accessible to agricultural workers.

The Regulations also prohibit the combining or mixing for use two or more pesticides unless certain conditions are met, and the combining or mixing for use two or more pesticides which are anticholinesterase compounds (certain types of products that can cause acute nerve toxicity) unless such a mixture is expressly permitted by the conditions of an authorisation.

Those who apply pesticides from aircraft (aerial spraying) must have a permit to do so and such permission will only be granted in limited circumstances. The application of pesticides by drone is considered to be aerial spraying and so is also subject to the permitting arrangements described above. Permits are issued by HSE on DAERA’s behalf. For further information please see the HSE Website.

Anyone that uses non-professional products will be deemed to have complied with the requirement to take ‘reasonable precautions’ if they have followed instructions on use and disposal of the product in accordance with instructions on the product label.

Requirements for safe storage, handling and disposal of pesticides

The Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012 contain legal requirements for all pesticide users to take reasonable precautions to ensure that storage, handling and disposal of products, their remnants (old products and unused tank mixes) and packaging and cleaning of equipment do not endanger human health or the environment. You must ensure that pesticides are stored in areas that are constructed in a way as to prevent unwanted releases. Anyone storing pesticides should follow good filling, storage and disposal practice such as those detailed in the Code of Practice for using plant protection products.

For those storing products for placing on the market, ensure that staff have undergone the BASIS Nominated Storekeeper Training Course or an equivalent qualification. The course is available through CAFRE or through BASIS. Distributors are expected to remind purchasers of their legal obligations.

The guidance note for pesticide stores explains the requirements for distributors of pesticides.

Legal requirement – sprayer application equipment testing

Under the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012 pesticide application equipment (PAE) testing, excluding handheld, knapsack and pedestrian equipment became a legal requirement from 26th November 2016.

For all new PAE, the first test is due before the machine is 5 years old

Re-testing requirements from 26th November 2020:

  • every 3 years for boom sprayers over 3 metres, air assisted broadcast sprayers and sprayers attached to trains or aircraft
  • every 6 years for boom sprayers 3 metres and under, weed wipers, micro-granular applicators, seed treatment and other specialist application equipment such as foggers, misters, batch dippers

The National Sprayer Testing Scheme (NSTS) is currently the only officially designated provider for certification of pesticide application equipment in the UK.

Knapsacks, handheld and pedestrian equipment need to be inspected by a competent person, repairs made as required, and a record kept. For knapsack sprayers a checklist is available from the NSTS website to use and record the results.

A person who owns or leases pesticide application equipment must ensure that such equipment is not used by a professional user unless it has passed inspection.

Professional users must also conduct regular calibrations and technical checks of the pesticide application equipment they use.

If you would like to pre-check your pesticide application equipment before offering it for test, NSTS has an Operator Check Sheet which will give you a good indication of the checks made.

DAERA has produced leaflets to remind you of pesticide spraying law changes and advice on Sprayer testing – What do I have to do?. Further information may also be found on the NSTS website.

Pesticide application equipment testing – Mutual Recognition

Pesticide application equipment certified by an approved inspector, on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), in Ireland can now be used to apply pesticides in the UK. Likewise, Pesticide application equipment which has been certified by NSTS in the UK and then imported into Ireland can be used in Ireland.

This is referred to as Mutual Recognition.

If the application equipment remains in use in the UK, subsequent tests must be carried out by the NSTS. Similarly of the application equipment remains in use in Ireland, subsequent tests must be carried out by a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM)  approved inspector.

Codes of Practice

DAERA has produced guidance to help those working with pesticides to meet the requirements of the legislation. The Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products explains how you can use pesticides and plant protection products safely and so meet the legal conditions which cover their use.

By following the Code, you will be doing enough to keep within the law. You may be able to work in a different way from the Code as long as that way is just as safe. If you are prosecuted for not following the Code a court will find you guilty unless you can show that you have obeyed the law in some other way.

For those who sell, supply and store for sale and supply,  the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) produced the Code of Practice for Suppliers of Pesticides to Agriculture, Horticulture and Forestry (the Yellow Code) The Yellow Code gives practical guidance on the storage and transport of pesticides and the obligations on supply chain operators.

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