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Preventative and preemergent pesticide spraying is an important part of a turf manager’s fall program. And just as an ounce of prevention pays off big dividends in the condition and quality of spring turf, so does reviewing important safety guidelines with your crew about the proper application of those chemicals.

Here are three important safety issues to consider before spraying pesticides this fall.

Right product for the task

I don’t know if you’ll change anyone’s mind if they are already convinced that pesticides are dangerous, but if you explain how you only use products that have been thoroughly tested and approved for use on golf courses, at least they’ll know you’re doing your due diligence in selecting the safest products. Following pesticide labels is not only the law, it is the only way to assure the product is safe to use, not only for the plant, but for your employees, golfers and the environment. You may be tempted to “bump the rate up a little,” but as a major manufacturer of golf course pesticides reminded me, their products are designed to work best at labeled rates and application intervals. Furthermore, it is difficult for manufacturers to support applications of products outside of label recommendations. They’ve done a lot of research to make sure their products do the job they are intended for.

Properly maintain and calibrate your spray equipment

One of the key factors in handling pesticides safely is controlling your exposure to the concentrated product and the spray solution. In the court case mentioned above, the groundskeeper claimed that once, while spraying, a hose broke, covering him with Roundup spray solution. This is the kind of accident that could be prevented if your equipment is properly maintained. You should regularly check your spray equipment for worn hoses, cracked or loose nozzles, and leaking seals or fittings. Also, make sure your pump is operating at the correct pressure for the nozzles you are using.

A boom sprayer is the most accurate and efficient way to apply pesticides to large turf areas. But to safely and effectively spray pesticides with a boom sprayer, it must be properly calibrated, and you should be working within the manufacturer’s recommended spraying parameters. Most of today’s spray rigs have controllers that automatically adjust pressure to maintain a consistent, predetermined spray rate (gallons/1,000 feet or acre).

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Assuring the chemical goes where you want it, and not where you don’t want it, reduces exposure to other people and non-targeted areas. Nozzle selection, pressure and speed all affect droplet size and spray drift. Catalogs from nozzle manufacturers have all the information you need to select and use the right nozzle for your situation. Look for a nozzle that produces the largest droplet (to reduce drift), but still provides the coverage you need for the product to work. Some products need to cover (and stick) to the entire leaf blade, while others need to get down to the crown or be watered in. Regardless of nozzles, pressure and speed, you should always avoid spraying in high winds.

Using a boom skirt that surrounds all the nozzles is a great way to control drift and keep your application on target. For ultimate control of your spray solution, you should consider taking advantage of the most recent innovations in sprayer technology. GPS-guided systems turn individual nozzles on and off automatically based on previously mapped areas on the golf course. This helps guarantee your pesticides are applied only to the target turf areas as well as potentially reducing the total amount of product used.

Handle pesticides correctly and safely

When OSHA adopted the Hazard Communication Standard in 1983, golf course turf managers started putting together MSDS books and added hazardous materials training to their safety programs. The stated purpose of the Hazard Communication standard was to provide employees access to information about any hazardous materials they may be exposed to at work, and train them to recognize the release of these material into the work area. Properly training your crew to work with and around pesticides goes way beyond that notion.

Before an employee begins work, they should be informed that potentially harmful pesticides (and other hazardous materials) are used on the course. Every crew member should feel safe with the pesticides they work with and around. That means training your employees to have an awareness of the potential health hazards and understand the precautions necessary to reduce or eliminate those risks. If you’re not holding a pesticide/hazardous materials training class for new employees and an annual refresher for the full crew, you should put one together now.

Mickey McCord is the founder of McCord Golf Services and Safety, providing safety training for superintendents and turf maintenance crews.