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Looking at pesticide labels through multi-colored glasses

Blacksburg, Va. -- Pesticides are one of the most significant sources of poison to the human nervous system when misused. New research indicates that various cultures may misinterpret the directions provided by the manufacturers, thereby increasing the chances for mishandling.

The pesticide industry considers culture to be an increasing concern due to changing demographic trends - specifically, increases in migrant laborers and overall language diversity. As these trends continue, the opportunities for communication errors with pesticide use increase. Previous studies indicate that the main reason pesticides are misused is because customers are unable to follow the instructions. Cultural differences in how one interprets language, color, and symbols may exacerbate the problem.

To reduce the possibility of pesticide exposure, two researchers are investigating the use of cultural ergonomics to prevent pesticide exposure. Tonya Smith-Jackson, assistant professor of human factors engineering and ergonomics at Virginia Tech, and Michael Wogalter, professor of ergonomics at North Carolina State University, are working together under the auspices of a research contract from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Using a pesticide takes more than just knowing what pest it will kill. It requires an understanding of how much to mix, how to apply it, and what protective gear to wear. In an increasingly diverse and global society, communication ergonomics (the study of human-centered design of communications) is desperately needed to reduce the hazards associated with products and systems and the additional problems introduced by poor information design, Smith-Jackson said.

Examples of pesticide misuse include: using too much pesticide (either too strong of a concentration or applying it too often), using an outdoor pesticide indoors, failing to follow the restricted time for reentering an area after a pesticide has b
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Contact: Tonya Smith-Jackson
smithjack@vt.edu
540-231-4119
Virginia Tech
11-Apr-2003


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