OSHA clarifies enforcement authority on small farms

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, July 30, 2014 - The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a memorandum today clarifying its authority to conduct enforcement activities on small farms.

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The memorandum supersedes a June 28, 2011, memorandum after calls from lawmakers including Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., who said the original memo was confusing.

“We took another look at the 2011 memorandum and, quite frankly, agree that it did have some confusing language in it,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jordan Barab said today in a conference call. “Accordingly, we withdrew that memorandum.”  

A 1976 appropriations rider prohibits OSHA from using appropriated funds to conduct enforcement activities on any person “engaged in a farming operation with 10 or fewer non-family employees.” The updated memorandum clarifies what is and isn't a farming operation and removes the “post-harvest operations” language used in the 2011 memorandum.

Under the new memorandum, a farm storing its own grain in its own handling facilities is exempt from OSHA regulation, because that is considered a “related activity” to a farming operation. But a farm that stores grain from other farming operations is deemed commercial, and thus, subject to OSHA authority. Barab also said an operation that involves food processing of an agricultural product is a food company, not a farming operation, and is also subject to OSHA authority.

Barab said at the request of Johanns and others, the new memorandum was reviewed by USDA and farm organizations such as the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Corn Growers Association. He said after reviewing it and providing minor suggestions - all of which were accepted by OSHA - all agricultural organizations that reviewed the new memorandum approved of it.

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