Thursday, February 6, 2014

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Farm Bureau calls on Congress to stop OSHA overreach on grain bins

Washington—A guidance memo produced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on grain bins and grain storage should be withdrawn because it provides authority for enforcement activities on small farms that are exempt under law, the American Farm Bureau Federation told Congress just last week. 

While Farm Bureau has always made farm safety a priority, the OSHA memo overreaches agency authority and circumvents clear legislative language, according to Farm Bureau.  

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. 

OSHA appears to take the position that any activity that takes place after a kernel is severed from the stalk would be considered post-harvest activities, which would place those activities under OSHA regulation.

“Post-harvest activities are necessary to prepare crops for sale and are fundamental in any farming operation,” said Scott VanderWal, president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation, testifying to the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections on behalf of AFBF. “Merely possessing storage capacity for grain and utilizing that storage capacity does not create a separate and distinct operation from the farming operation itself.”

VanderWal emphasized that this is not a matter of farmers wanting to take safety shortcuts.
“Farm Bureau understands OSHA’s concerns with grain bin safety,” he said.  Further, noted VanderWal, “Farm Bureau remains committed to grain bin and farm safety generally. Had OSHA reached out to Farm Bureau and others in agriculture we would have been eager to work with them to develop additional safety training programs if necessary to prevent injury.”  
Instead, OSHA inspectors have forged ahead with investigations of farmers in areas where agency authority is limited, if not entirely restricted by Congress, said VanderWal.  

“Congressional intent is clear that this language was adopted to protect small farms and should be interpreted broadly to protect farms with fewer than 10 employees and no labor camp,” VanderWal explained.  

He closed by calling on Congress to take action to prevent OSHA’s continued regulatory overreach.

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