Understanding OSHA’s oversight

A recent inspection of an Ohio farm by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration raised qustions about the scope of the agency’s oversight.  You can read the farmer’s story here. Below, Leah Curtis, Ohio Farm Bureau’s Director of Agricultural Law, explains the exemption that has typically applied to small farms. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with regulating the safety and health of workers in the United States. Technically, OSHA has jurisdiction over nearly all private employers in the country.

However, since 1976, Congress has included a rider on all appropriations bills which prevents OSHA from enforcing any safety regulations on small farms. The rider defines small farms as those which within the last 12 months have employed no more than 10 people and do not operate an agricultural labor camp.

For purposes of the small farm enforcement exemption, OSHA typically does not count immediate family members when determining the number of employees for the exemption. If farms are above the 10 employee limit or operate an agricultural labor camp, they will be subject to OSHA standards for their farm.

Farms are covered by the general industry safety standards, as well as seven specific agriculture safety standards dealing with the following topics: slow moving vehicle emblem, anhydrous ammonia, pulpwood logging, temporary labor camp housing, roll over protection structures, agricultural machinery guarding, and cotton dust.

In addition, farm employers will be subject to training and recordkeeping related to these standards. If a farm believes they may be subject to OSHA enforcement because they have 11 or more employees or have temporary labor housing, they may consider conducting their own compliance check of their operation. It also may be a good idea to develop a plan for your farm in case an inspection would occur.

Consider discussing the possibility with your employees, having documents organized and accessible, and prepare for interviews and tours that inspectors may conduct. Even if farms are under the threshold, it is always a good idea to periodically review safety practices and procedures to ensure you and your family are as safe as possible. There is no indication that OSHA has any specific or direct priority to inspect farms. However, it is well known that agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries there is.

Because of the risks of injury that are ever-present on the farm, those subject to OSHA enforcement should be prepared for the possibility of an inspection.

*** In a letter to Congress Feb. 10, OSHA indicated that it has removed a memo (the source of the issue addressed in this story) from its website and will work with USDA and farm organizations to develop any new guidance. OSHA’s letter appears to be in direct response to congressional efforts supported by AFBF, OFBF and others. This news offers hope that the agency will comply with the small farm exemption as required by law.

Additional Resources

Ohio Farm Bureau members have access to additional members-only resources through our legal information series covering property rights, zoning, CAUV, dog laws and other topics as they emerge. 

Discover more benefits of being a Farm Bureau member.

Callie Wells 

Callie Wells is the director of digital communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.

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