News item: Sen. Chuck Grassley has joined 42 other senators in requesting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to stop unlawful regulations on small family farms.
“OSHA is overstepping its bounds here,” Grassley said.
“This is yet another example of Washington bureaucrats meddling in the lives of Americans,” Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said.
“The way the administration is going about putting OSHA on family-owned farms is unconscionable,” said Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
According to statement from Wicker and Cochran: “The agency’s view of grain bin operations as distinctly separate from exempt farm operations has the potential of affecting the more than 300,000 farms in the United States that have on-farm grain storage.”
Since its inception in the early 1970s, OSHA has been a periodic punching bag for politicians angered by the agency “over-reaching” in one way or another and sending inspectors where they shouldn’t go, or setting standards that shouldn’t exist.
Or engaging in trivial, nitpicking pursuits. You name it.
Over-zealous inspectors haven’t helped, of course, but over-zealous inspectors exist in every federal agency and private corporations, for that matter.
Piling on OSHA is an easy game to play. Who’s going to come to OSHA’s defense? How many times has a President spoken out at a press conference to defend the agency?
Never, to my knowledge.
Just who are OSHA’s friends and allies? Organized labor, with membership at low ebb, cannot compete with the resources of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and scores of trade associations that surround ole OSHA in Washington. Scrappy grassroots safety groups and non-profits are no match, either. Since Ted Kennedy passed on, the only senator who shows any interest at all in OSHA is Mike Enzi, a Republican from Wyoming who’d like to turn it into a compliance assistance consultancy. No one has OSHA’s back. That makes it so easy to pounce…
In this latest OSHA tempest in a teapot, the mighty Wall Street Journal has gotten in some good licks.
“OSHA inspectors have recently begun to descend on family farms, claiming the authority to regulate their grain storage bins.”
“OSHA inspectors are specifically barred under the law from setting foot on farms with 10 or fewer employees. But the act of creating a job in agriculture apparently now makes one eligible for an extra-legal federal investigation. Is this the Obama economic plan for 2014?”
“We'd say all 100 Senators should agree on the proposition that federal agencies should follow the law.”
Where’s the famous journalistic balance? Where’s the rest of the story?
The Wall Street Journal, and the 43 irate senators, fail to mention that researchers at Purdue University documented 38 grain entrapments in 2009 alone.
Grain entrapments generally occur because of employer negligence, non-compliance with OSHA standards, and/or poor safety and health practices.
OSHA has investigated several cases involving worker entry into grain storage bins where it was found that the employer was aware of the hazards and of OSHA’s standards, but failed to train or protect the workers entering the bin, according to OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels.
Several tragedies stand out, and of course were not mentioned by the Journal nor the senators:
- On November 23, 2009, OSHA fined Tempel Grain Elevators LLP more than $1.5 million following the May 29, 2009 death of a teenage worker at the company's Haswell, Colorado grain storage operation. The youth suffocated after being engulfed by grain in one of the facility’s bins. The company also exposed three other teenage workers to the cited hazards.
- On May 27, 2010, OSHA fined the South Dakota Wheat Growers Association of Aberdeen, South Dakota more than $1.6 million following the death of a worker who had suffocated after being engulfed by grain. OSHA’s investigation found that five additional workers were also at risk of being engulfed when they were sent into the bin to dig the victim out.
- On August 4, 2010, OSHA fined Cooperative Plus, Inc. in Burlington, Wisconsin $721,000 after a worker was buried up to his chest and trapped in frozen soybeans. The worker was ultimately rescued after a four hour ordeal.
According to the National Safety Council, agriculture is the most hazardous industry in the nation, OSHA says in a farm safety fact sheet. Farm workers—including youngsters and migrant workers—are exposed to hazards such as the following: Chemicals/Pesticides, Cold, Dust, Electricity, Grain bins, Hand tools, Highway traffic, Lifting, Livestock handling, Machinery/Equipment, Manure pits, Mud, Noise, Ponds, Silos, Slips/Trips/Falls, Sun/Heat, Toxic gases, Tractors, and Wells.
More than 2.1 million farms operate in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. How many do you think will be visited by an OSHA inspector?
In fiscal year 2013, federal OSHA conducted 39 inspections of crop production operations, issued 125 citations totaling $140,500 in penalties.
Federal OSHA conducted 40,961 inspections in FY 2012 with about 2,200 employees. It is responsible for safety and health conditions in more than eight million workplaces, employing 130 million workers. That’s one OSHA inspector for every 59,000 workers.
In FY13, the agency conducted 14,615 construction sites, issued 36,398 citations, and more than $62 million in penalties.
The agency’s FY 13 budget is a whopping $535,246,000. That’s pocket change in Washington.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s FY 2013 budget was $7,901,104,000 with a workforce of 15,913.
Senators, Wall Street Journal editorialists, OSHA is not going to bring down the American farm, the American economy, or the American Dream for that matter. Not with the resources, or lack thereof, at its disposal. And any expanded mission creep will happen at a snail’s pace. Or about the same pace OSHA is able to issue standards.
Here’s one for you: other than liberal bloggers and hell-raising safety activists, I’ve never heard anyone stand up and say OSHA isn’t doing enough.