The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) formally clarified that it cannot regulate family farms with 10 or fewer employees.
In a guideline it issued, OSHA recognizes that postharvest activities integral to farming operations, including drying and storing grain, are exempt from regulations if the farm has 10 or fewer employees, consistent with current law.
Deputy assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jordan Barab says it was never the intent or practice of OSHA to inspect small farms. Since 1976, an appropriations rider has precluded OSHA from expending appropriated funds to conduct enforcement activities with respect to any person engaged in a farming operation with ten or fewer non-family employees that has not maintained a temporary labor camp within the preceding twelve months.
Last fall the OSHA was called out by Sen. Mike Johanns, R., Neb., when it was brought to his attention that a farm in Holt County, Neb. was being inspected by the agency and fined approximately $132,000 in fines. The case was dropped in February 2014 after Johanns intervened and OSHA withdrew its 2011 memo, which was causing the confusion.
OSHA instituted the original memorandum in response to a high number of grain facilities and was intended to clarify to inspectors where they were allowed and not allowed to do inspections that would ensure the safety of people working in grain facilities.
“We took a look at the 2011 memo and agreed it did have some confusing language,” Barab says.
He added that the new memo defines farming operations and outlines those which are not considered a small farm.
OSHA defines a "farming operation" as "any operation involved in the growing or harvesting of crops or the raising of livestock or poultry, or related activities conducted by a farmer on sites such as farms, ranches, orchards, dairy farms or similar farming operations."
Barab says prior to release of the updated memo, it was reviewed by the Department of Agriculture and other industry groups including the Farm Bureau, National Grain and Feed Association, National Council of Farm Cooperatives and National Corn Growers Association. He added the groups gave suggestions for changes, of which all OSHA accepted to make more clear to the public OSHA’s intent.
Kristi Boswell, director of congressional relations with Farm Bureau, says AFBF was “encouraged by the clarity the updated memorandum provides to OSHA field investigators to ensure the small farm statutory exemption is followed.
“Safety remains a priority for Farm Bureau and we are working to develop a clearinghouse of educational and training material that will be available to farmers to promote safe practices on the farm," she adds.
“OSHA had no business regulating family farms in the first place,” Johanns says. “Even though OSHA overreached, I applaud their promise to obey the law and listen to the concerns of the farmers and ranchers who are affected.”