This study collected data from superintendents and workers across a range of states and types of golf courses. Workers and superintendents generally had differing beliefs about training and views on practices, though there were some commonalities (). Few superintendents were knowledgeable about or in compliance with federal pesticide safety regulation. Superintendents thought that most workers used safety equipment, though it was not required because there had been few injuries reported. They believed the training provided was adequate or the best they could provide due to the communication barrier between them and their workers.
Summary of findings (beliefs and practices) by interviewee status.
Workers wanted more information about chemicals they identified as dangerous, but superintendents did not want to give them that information, did not have the means by which to communicate that information, or did not think those chemicals dangerous. Workers received very little training in other areas of golf course work. Most training was on the job, though many workers reported being shown instructional videos that came with the equipment. These videos were sometimes in Spanish. Workers identified occupational health hazards based on word of mouth and sensory information rather than by training. They judged the strength of a chemical by its smell. Many workers did not use safety equipment, even it was provided.
Agriculture poses similar occupational health hazards to golf courses. More data are available about farmworker and grower knowledge, beliefs, and training than about golf course workers and their supervisors. In both industries workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals, motorized equipment, and sharp tools; and there are often substantial communication barriers between workers and supervisors. Golf course workers who had worked in agriculture said that they were better at their job and needed less training because they had worked in agriculture. Farmworkers and golf course workers share similar countries of origin, language skills, and educational attainment.
In agriculture, growers, like golf course superintendents, are responsible for training their workers; and training is based largely on regulations and growers’ beliefs about workers’ health risks. Rao and colleagues 
reported that North Carolina growers and extension agents, like golf course superintendents, do not believe their employees to be in a great deal of danger from pesticides. Both growers and golf course superintendents think that pesticides are not as dangerous as the general public believes. Both groups also think that those who do not apply chemicals are not exposed to them. Both growers and superintendents face the same training difficulties, and both say that PPE use is common sense.
Farmworkers rely on the same word-of-mouth and cultural knowledge base as golf course workers. For both groups, a chemical’s smell is indicative of its toxicity [Quandt et al., 1998
; Rao et al., 2007
]. Both use milk as a folk remedy to treat acute symptoms of exposure [Rao et al., 2002
]. Residual symptoms may be attributed to folk illnesses, like susto
, which may indicate a more severe exposure [Baer & Penzell, 1993
]. Like golf course workers, farmworkers often do not have access to information about pesticides [Flocks et al., 2007
Because workers in both groups have little access to pesticide information, few workers know anything about pesticides beyond the fact that they are dangerous [Quandt et al., 1998
; Flocks et al., 2007
]. They trust that their supervisors keep them safe and know that they are not allowed to apply pesticides, so golf course workers thought that any chemical they worked with was not a pesticide and relatively safe. Therefore, they did not know to take post-exposure measures (i.e., showering immediately after work, changing out of work clothes before they went in the house). Because they thought that chemicals they handled were safe, they did not take precautions to prevent exposure (i.e., using a facemask, wearing a long-sleeved shirt).
Latino workers may take greater risks than some non-Latino workers. A common belief among farmworkers is that a person’s strength and size are protective when the person is exposed to pesticides [Quandt et al., 1998
; Rao et al., 2007
]. Cultural expectations are that men, particularly strong men, can tolerate a certain amount of symptoms and illness, so many farmworkers do not follow all safety regulations, placing themselves at additional risk for injury [Hunt et al., 1999
]. Many golf course workers said that younger men would not use provided safety equipment.
Federal regulations require compliance with OSHA Right-to-Know requirements as part of the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Each workplace must have a written plan for training that describes how requirements for labels and other forms of warning, MSDSs, and employee information and training will be addressed. Supervisors must provide any information about a chemical that an employee requests. Each employee who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals when working must be provided information and trained prior to initial assignment to work with a hazardous chemical and whenever the hazard changes. Information and training may be done either by the individual chemical or by categories of hazard. Workers should learn to read and understand such information, determine how it can be obtained and used in their own workplaces, and understand the risks of exposure to the chemicals in their workplace as well as how to protect themselves. The training program should ensure comprehension [OSHA, 1996
These results show that Right-to-Know regulations are not being followed by golf courses. All workers on golf courses are exposed to hazardous chemicals, so all workers should receive thorough pesticide training. All superintendents had an MSDS, but no workers mentioned anything like one when asked about pesticides. Only superintendents in California specifically did Right-to-Know training. Right-to-Know was the only federal regulation that most supervisors knew existed. Most thought they were in compliance with the regulations. However, few seemed to know much about what the regulations required or who was responsible for enforcing the regulations.
Golf course superintendents need better training in Right-to-Know procedures and pesticide safety. Because they do not have this training, they do not know the mechanics of pesticide exposure. Workers do not receive training about pesticides or PPE because their superintendents do not know that they should be trained, so workers do not have the knowledge or equipment to protect themselves from pesticide exposure. Superintendents need to understand the risks posed by pesticides and other hazardous chemicals. Current training focuses primarily on equipment safety because the danger from equipment is more apparent. Most effects from pesticides are long term, and acute symptoms rarely occur while on the job [Baer & Penzell, 1993
], so supervisors are not as aware of the danger posed by pesticides as they are of that posed by equipment.
Barriers to training must also be taken into account. Considerable communication barriers were demonstrated in this study and were part of the reason why Latino workers received as little training as they did. Appropriate Spanish language training materials must be developed or made more widely available. Superintendents should be made aware of these materials and other services to train their Spanish-speaking workers.
Coupled with better training is better enforcement. Superintendents must train workers before they are assigned work. Most who were interviewed relegated training to rainy days or to the off-season, and many workers said they started work during the summer. Training should be equal for Latino and non-Latino workers. All workers should receive the same information in a manner in which they understand, and training materials should include information on pesticides and hazardous chemicals. Many supervisors said that training their Spanish-speaking workers would be too difficult or expensive and that these workers now receive training that is different from their English-speaking workers. Enforcement should be great enough that supervisors are forced to find a way to train these workers.
An alternative to better pesticide safety training is pesticide elimination or using less toxic chemicals. In the case of elimination, no workers would be routinely exposed to pesticides as they are now. However, this is unlikely to happen in the near future, so better training should be adopted in the interim. Using less toxic chemicals, though seemingly beneficial, may not hold the promise that seems likely. When the city of San Francisco, California, switched to less hazardous chemicals for its public courses, it had to use a larger volume of chemical to have the same effect. So the benefits of using a less dangerous material may be nullified by increased exposure [Hawkes, 2010
This research must be considered in light of the limitations common to qualitative research. Participants were not selected randomly, so caution must be taken in generalizing results. Each in-depth interview is somewhat different, and not all questions are asked of all participants in the same way. However, participants were recruited from several different states and many different golf courses. Interviewers were trained, and their interviews were reviewed for quality. This study focused on Latino workers, and so our conclusions and recommendations focus on this group of workers. This is not to suggest that non-Latino golf course workers are less at risk for pesticide exposure and other occupational health hazards. However, it is likely that different factors affect training and hazard exposure other workers (e.g., English-speaking workers), so our findings should be interpreted in light of this.
More research is needed. Though this study revealed general attitudes of golf course workers and superintendents, more specific information is needed on which to base educational materials for superintendents and workers. Culturally, linguistically, and educationally appropriate pesticide safety training programs need to be developed for golf course maintenance workers. Efforts are needed to inform golf course superintendence about the exposure risks of all of their employees and of the need for training all of their employees. Both further research and training need to be tailored to state-specific extensions of the federal Right-to-Know regulations.