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January 02, 2014
Senators challenge OSHA enforcement on family farms

OSHA has traditionally excluded farms with 10 or fewer workers from enforcement. Now the agency is being challenged for regulating the grain bin operations on those small farms. Read on to find out more about the controversy.

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Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns, R-Neb. is leading the charge to stop OSHA from what he calls “unlawful regulation of family farms.” Johanns and 42 bipartisan Senate colleagues wrote to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez urging OSHA to exempt on-farm grain storage and handling. Despite the long-time exemption of small, family-run farms from OSHA regulations, a 2011 memo states that the grain activity is separate from other farm operations.

Said Johanns, “OSHA is out of line here, not our hard working ag producers.” He says the grain operations memo places a target on the backs of ranchers and farmers and added, “Congress has been clear for decades that costly OSHA regulations do not apply to small, family-run farms. Now OSHA is making up its own rules, and that’s unacceptable.” Johanns and his fellow senators have asked for a response by February 1, including confirmation that OSHA will cease this level of enforcement.

The brouhaha started when OSHA cited a small Nebraska farm for grain operation violations. Johanns said that by considering grain bin operations separate from farming, OSHA is creating an artificial distinction. He noted that grain bins are essential to farming; without them, farmers must sell crops like corn and soybeans immediately after harvest, when prices may be low.

OSHA’s grain handling rules are intended to prevent engulfment, suffocation, falls, and other hazards related to entering grain storage facilities. In June, the agency issued a series of news releases aimed at communicating these hazards to employers in Midwestern states and partnered with universities and industry groups in these states to provide training and outreach.

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