OSHA assailed for regulatory ‘overreach’ on family farms

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) decision to enforce regulations on certain small farms amounts to “blatant overreach” that unfairly targets small farmers, a pair of Senate Republicans argues.

Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are calling on the Labor Secretary Tom Perez to rescind OSHA guidance clarifying that the agency intends to enforce regulations on farms with less than 10 workers.

ADVERTISEMENT
For decades, Congress has inserted language in appropriations bills prohibiting OSHA – an arm of the Labor Department – from enforcing provisions of the 1976 Occupational Safety and Health Act at farming operations with 10 or fewer employees.

But in recent months, the agency has begun issuing thousands of dollars in fines under the statute, saying that it has jurisdiction over non-farming operations – including grain storage – on farms, the lawmakers said.

“Lo and behold, OSHA has decided it can label certain sections of the farm as something else – by fiat – and send in their inspectors,” Johanns said in remarks on the Senate floor before Congress adjourned for the year. “OSHA ignored what Congress directed.”

OSHA’s guidance, issued back in 2011, was meant to clarify the agency’s authority at small farms with grain storage structures, the agency said at the time.

“Many of these small farm employers mistakenly assume that the Appropriations Rider precludes OSHA from conducting enforcement activities regardless of the type of operations performed on the farm,” a section of the guidance reads.

But Johanns and Moran say the regulation of small farms under the worker safety law defied congressional intent. The lawmakers urged Perez to issue corrected guidance by next month.

They said overzealous regulation has left farmers with the impression that the federal government is unfairly targeting them.

“OSHA’s distorted definition of farming in order to expand its jurisdiction serves as evidence that farmers concerns are legitimate concerns,” Johanns said.