Plant protection products, or pesticides, are efficient because they have toxic properties. Therefore, as being designed to injure or kill living organisms, they are unusual among occupational chemical hazards. They can, however, be utilised as practical and safe products if their toxic properties to non-target organisms are controlled. It is utmost important to safeguard the health of humans from these unwanted effects. .
Humans are likely to be exposed to pesticides via residues in food, emissions to environment (e.g. ground water) or bystander exposure to airborne drift. Occupational exposure through handling and application processes and tending treated crops and picking and packing crops treated previously causes in most cases the most severe exposure.
Acute health effects of the pesticides are relatively well known, but there are still a lack of knowledge about, for example, long term effects, reproductive effects or interactions between different substances. Pesticide handlers are usually aware of the acute effects and are willing to protect themselves from apparent health risks, but these other possible effects are not well known. .
The registered, modern pesticide products are safe to use if the instructions given in the labelling are strictly followed. Balancing between encouraging the workers not to have unnecessary fears but having a healthy respect on the substances poses a great challenge for risk communicators.
The process of placing plant protection products into the common market according to Directive 414/91/EEC is divided into two procedures. The active ingredients of pesticides are allocated by the Commission to be assessed by individual Member States. Products are approved on a national level. It is therefore possible to take the regional differences into account quite efficiently.
In this essay, issues related to risk perception and communication are discussed with specific emphasis on consumer and occupational exposure.