Pesticides: The basics
Pesticides, also known as ’plant protection products’ (PPP), are used to control pests, weeds and diseases. There are many different types of plant protection product and common examples include: insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, molluscicides, and plant growth regulators.
These products can help ensure that we:
- have a good supply of safe, high quality, reasonably priced, locally-grown foodstuffs
- maintain the safety of our public spaces, industrial sites and transport infrastructure
- manage flood risks
- control invasive species
- provide access to high quality sporting facilities
They are also used by amateur gardeners. However, as these chemicals are designed to disrupt life processes, risks can be associated with their use.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) aims to ensure that plant protection products do not harm human health or have unacceptable effects on the environment.
We do this principally by using the law to set strict conditions on the way these products can be used. We also work with other organisations to ensure the risk and impact of using them are understood and controlled appropriately.
The controls cover all parts of the 'life-cycle' of the product:
- Firstly, only authorised products can be marketed. In order to obtain an authorisation, applicants must provide data showing how the product will be used and the impact of that use. We assess the risks associated with different uses of products and set legally enforceable conditions, setting out the way they must be stored, applied, and where appropriate, disposed of.
- Secondly, we ensure products are used in a sustainable fashion. We use a combination of the law and provision of advice, sometimes developed by others, to ensure those responsible for using plant protection products think carefully about whether they need to be applied and, if so, that they understand the potential risks and impacts and control them appropriately.
- Finally, we monitor the impact the chemicals are having to ensure that they do not harm human health or have unacceptable effects on the environment. Key controls here involve the setting of maximum residue levels for pesticides in foodstuffs and monitoring pesticide residues in food and drink.
Two independent Expert Committees and a stakeholder Forum support and advise HSE and Ministers in these areas of work.
We aim to ensure our controls are based on evidence and take account of latest scientific thinking and technical developments. The Research and Development programme which we manage is designed to help us to do this.
See this Glossary for explanations of:
- What is a pesticide?
- What is a plant protection product?
- What is an active substance?