Senators accuse OSHA of burdensome farm regulations

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2013 - A bipartisan group of senators says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is illegally overburdening small farms with regulations.

In an effort spearheaded by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., 43 senators today sent a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez alleging OSHA's stepped up enforcement of regulations on small farms with grain bins flies in the face of 35 years of lawmaking. “Congress has included very specific language in appropriation bills,” Johanns said yesterday on the Senate floor. The language precludes funds appropriated for OSHA from being used “for rules or regulations applying to [farms with working] populations of 10 or fewer,” Johanns said.

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According to Johanns, one small farm in Holt County, Neb., was fined $132,000 for grain bin-related OSHA violations.

It is true that small businesses performing farming operations are excluded from OSHA regulations under the Farming Appropriations Rider. But the agency, in a 2011 memo, told its administrators that producers “engaged in performing services on crops, subsequent to their harvest, with the intent of preparing them for market or further processing” would not be exempt from oversight.

The memo further said that farms that fumigate, dry or process grains and sell that product to market fall under OSHA's regulatory system.

But Johanns and his allies say most farms, even small ones, have grain storage bins - meaning OSHA is overstepping its authority.

“The use of grain bins is an integral part of farming operations,” the senators wrote. “Without grain bins, farmers must sell corn and soybeans immediately after harvest, when prices are usually low. Any farm that employs 10 or fewer employees and used grain bins only for storage prior to marketing should be exempt, as required by law, from OSHA regulations.”

The senators asked OSHA to halt its regulations of the relevant farms, “correct its misinterpretation” in conversation with USDA and other components of the agriculture sector; and “provide a list and description of the regulatory actions taken since 2011 against farms with incorrectly categorized non-farming activities and 10 or fewer employees.”

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