U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., earlier this week sent a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez directing OSHA to stop what Johanns contends is the agency’s “unlawful regulation of family farms.”
The letter, signed by 42 other senators, directs OSHA to issue updated guidance correcting the agency’s “misinterpretation of current law,” which refers to a 2011 memo in which OSHA asserts that on-farm grain storage and handling is not part of farm operations – and therefore not exempt from OSHA oversight.
“The memo essentially expanded OSHA’s regulatory scope to nearly every farm in the country without going through the established rulemaking process that allows congressional review and public comment, in defiance of the law,” Johanns asserts in a news release.
Since 1976, the letter explains, “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, OSHA now is interpreting the language “so narrowly that virtually every grain farm in the country would be subject to OSHA regulations,” the senators assert.
“In viewing a farm’s ‘grain bin operation’ as somehow distinct from its farming operation, OSHA is creating an artificial distinction in an apparent effort to circumvent the congressional prohibition on regulating farms,” the senators contend in the letter. “ The use of grain bins is an integral part of farming operations. Without grain bins, farmers must sell corn and soybeans immediately after harvest, when prices are usually low. Storing grain in bins is thus a fundamental aspect of farming. 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.”
In the letter, the senators call on OSHA to cease all enforcement actions against small farms that use grains bins for storage, and ask the agency to issue updated guidance “correcting this misinterpretation of the law.”
The senators also ask OSHA to “provide 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.”
“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 senators assert in the letter. “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. Until then, Congress has spoken clearly and we sincerely hope that you will support America’s farmers and respect the intent of Congress by reining in OSHA.”