OSHA Cracks Down on Grain Bins

OSHA Cracks Down on Grain Bins
Created by rrummel on 1/8/2014 4:25:01 PM

Senators Demand End to Regulatory Reach



The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration must stop its unlawful regulation of family farms, more than 40 Republican and Democratic senators wrote in a recent letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.  

For nearly four decades, Congress has included specific language in appropriations bills prohibiting OSHA from using appropriated funds to apply requirements under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1976 to farming operations with 10 or fewer employees.  However, an OSHA memo issued in 2011 stating that many activities—including drying and fumigating grain—are subject to all OSHA requirements effectively expanded the agency’s regulatory scope to nearly every farm in the country.      

“There are many farms that have grain dryers on-farm to address wet harvest conditions or fumigate grain to prevent pests from ruining a crop prior to marketing.  These are basic, common, and responsible farming activities that OSHA has arbitrarily decided are non-exempt,” the senators wrote.    

The agency has also taken to viewing a farm’s grain bin operation as separate from its farming operation, creating a false distinction that the agency thinks allows it to circumvent the congressional prohibition on regulating farms.    

The senators made it clear that this is not a matter of farmers wanting to take safety shortcuts, but an issue of a regulatory entity overstepping the very clear boundaries Congress established.      

“Worker safety is an important concern for all of us—including the many farmers who probably know better than OSHA regulators how to keep themselves and their employees safe on farms,” the letter said.  “If the administration believes that OSHA should be able to enforce its regulations on farms, it should make that case to Congress rather than twisting the law in the service of bureaucratic mission creep.”    

The senators asked OSHA to take three steps by Feb. 1 to address their concerns.      

First, OSHA should stop all actions based on its incorrect interpretation of the law and the exemption.  Second, the agency must issue a guidance correcting this misinterpretation.  The senators suggested OSHA consult with USDA and organizations representing farmers for help with the guidance.      

Third, the senators asked for a list and description of regulatory actions taken against farms with incorrectly categorized non-farming activities and 10 or fewer employees since the June 2011 memo.  “Given the nearly four decades of congressional prohibition of OSHA enforcement against farms, this should be a simple request to fulfill,” they wrote.  

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