The Occupational Safety and Health Administration this week said small farms with fewer than 10 employees where grain is stored, dried or handled will continue to be exempt from the administration's farm safety regulations, per a newly reviewed and revised enforcement memo.
The small farm regulations were questioned last year following a June 2011 OSHA memo to inspectors that provided guidance for inspecting small farms with grain storage facilities.
Bringing renewed attention to the nearly three-year-old memo was Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., who suggested that OSHA had overstepped its bounds and used appropriated funds to monitor and enforce safety regulations on a small Nebraska farm with one employee – a practice that is disallowed, per a 1976 regulation.
Jordan Barab, OSHA deputy assistant secretary for labor, says the memo was an action taken to combat the "very high number" of grain bin fatalities that were reported that year.
"It's never been our intent or practice to inspect small farms," Barab said during a press call Wednesday. "The intent of our memorandum was to clarify for our inspectors where they were allowed to go and where they were not allowed to go" following an aggressive enforcement campaign on grain facilities, he said.
We "quite frankly agree [that the 2011 memorandum] had some confusing language in it," Barab said, as he introduced the newly revised enforcement language, which was prepared with input from several farm and grain groups.
Related: OSHA Clarifies Grain Farm Oversight
Barab said the new memo replaces the 2011 memo and reinforces the limits of OSHA's authority. It also follows through on report language approved in the 2014 omnibus appropriations package that asked OSHA to issue a new memo and consult with farm groups to develop the memo.
The new memo, he said, focuses on the definition of farming operation as described in the original congressional language, specifically what are and are not farming operations.
For example, Barab said, operations that sell and store grain grown on other farms would still be subject to OSHA enforcement, as would farms that are involved in processing or milling crops on-site.
If a gray area arises in the memo, Barab concluded, inspectors are required to consult with higher levels of expertise before issuing enforcement orders.