Congress is using an omnibus appropriations bill scheduled to be voted on this week to remind OSHA of a 36-year-old Congressional exemption that keeps small farms out of the agency’s regulatory reach.
The language added to the bill “makes crystal clear…that OSHA policies and inspectors better get in line with the law,” according to U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).
The move came on the heels of a letter sent by 43 GOP lawmakers to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez demanding that OSHA reverse its determination that grain storage and handling facilities are not part of farm operations. The agency was using that distinction in an effort to get farms – including those with ten or fewer employees, which are exempted from regulations – to comply with grain handling safety standards.
"This is a blatant overreach and yet another example of this Administration's backdoor rulemaking,” said Johanns.
There were eight grain bin entrapment fatalities in 2012. Since 1964 there have been there have been more than a thousand grain entrapment incidents since 1964, resulting in 660 fatalities, according to a report by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity (NPR/CPI), which found that in 179 fatal grain bin incidents in which OSHA issued citations, the agency reduced fines levied against violators by approximately 60 percent, even when workers died and underage workers were victims.
The omnibus appropriations package contains report language clarifying that farm activities, such as grain storage, are included in the congressional exemption, and calls on OSHA to work with USDA before attempting to redefine or regulate post-harvest activities.