What does OSHA’s surprise inspection of an Ohio farm mean for you?

Leah Curtis, Ohio Farm Bureau’s Director of Agricultural Law, gives us some perspective. Farm Bureau members can read more in the next issue of Buckeye Farm News.

Recently, an Ohio Farm Bureau member received an unexpected inspection from the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) on his farm. We looked into it and found no reason why the farm shouldn’t have qualified for OSHA’s small farm exemption. We quickly referred the member to legal counsel knowing something strange was going on.

Here’s what we have since found out.

In 2011, OSHA published an opinion letter stating that on-farm grain storage and handling was not considered part of farm operations. This interpretation expanded OSHA’s regulatory scope to nearly every farm in the country without congressional approval or a rulemaking process allowing for public comment. This interpretation effectively repeals the small farm exemption that had prevented OSHA from enforcement actions on small farms that employ fewer than 10 employees and do not operate an agricultural labor camp.

What has happened since the member contacted us?

  • OFBF spread the word about this issue to AFBF and other state Farm Bureaus.
  • It was discovered another farm in Nebraska was receiving the same treatment.
  • U.S. Senator Mike Johanns from Nebraska made an impassioned speech about the situation on the Senate floor and circulated a letter addressing this overreach to be sent to the Department of Labor.
  • In Washington, D.C., OFBF President Steve Hirsch and staff met with our Ohio senators’ staff, who were both concerned about this overbroad interpretation.
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown began working with his contacts on the issue and Sen. Rob Portman added his signature to the letter sent by Sen. Johanns.

After all these events that transpired, OSHA decided to not cite the farmer in Ohio. However, we remain concerned the opinion letter could be used for enforcement on other farms in the future. We continue to work with AFBF and other states to see this opinion letter removed as a basis for enforcement and to ensure farms that fit the exemption receive it. Until then, we rely on our members to let us know if this happens on other farms so that we can try to assist those individually.