Since 1976, Congress has included specific language in appropriations bills which exempts family farms with less than 10 employees from OSHA regulations. By law, OSHA inspectors are prohibited from setting foot on those farms.
However, a 2011 memo from OSHA’s Director of Enforcement Programs to regional administrators ignored the intent of the law, claiming that such activities as drying, fumigating and storing grain makes small farmers commercial grain handlers and as such, subject to all OSHA regulations. Recently, OSHA inspectors have targeted small farms, issuing citations and fines on the stunned farmers.
Niobrara Farms in Nebraska, with one non-family employee was fined $132,000. They have contested the citations and are set to appear before an administrative judge. Their attorney, James Luers, wrote the entire Nebraska congressional delegation, stating that if OSHA wins on this one, almost every farm in the state would be subject to OSHA inspections and regulations.
Upon receipt of Luers’ letter, Senator Mike Johanns (R. Neb.) addressed the issue on the floor of the Senate, condemning OSHA’s “absolutely incredible” and “absurd” position. He stated, “Clearly what Congress is trying to do is protect family farms that exist in our states across the country.” He asked Labor Secretary Perez to “rein in OSHA” and stated they “must stop sending inspectors onto family farms in violation of the law.”
Senator Johanns and 42 other senators signed a letter to Secretary Perez asking him to direct OSHA inspectors to “cease all actions predicated on this interpretation . . . issue guidance correcting the misinterpretation of the law (suggesting consultation with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and organizations representing farmers for assistance) and provide a list and description of regulatory actions taken against farms with incorrectly categorized non-farming activities and 10 or fewer employees since June 2011.”
Senators Wyden and Merkley did not sign the letter.
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