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OSHA Clarifies Small Farm Regulation; Does It Apply to Your Farm?

Workplace safety is of utmost importance wherever you are, including the farm. Recent action by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) against a few small farms and subsequent backlash against the federal agency has prompted clarification on what types of farm operations are subject to OSHA regulation on "small farms."

First, what comprises a "small farm?" According to OSHA regulations, that means a farm operation that employs 10 or fewer workers and doesn't "maintain a temporary labor camp." According to Ohio State University ag law specialist Peggy Kirk Hall, both that definition and the "farm operations" that were previously considered exempt from OSHA regulation were called into question by recent actions taken by the agency against, among others, a farm in Nebraska late last month.

"The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) faced harsh criticism recently when the agency inspected and issued fines to small farms engaged in grain storage activities," Hall says. "The farms argued that OSHA had no authority to do so because of the small-farm exemption that limits OSHA’s authority to enforce safety regulations on small farms."

That follow-up argument led officials to issue clarification of the rules by which OSHA enforces farm regulations, specifically on what they consider small farms.

"The agency now states that a small farm would not be subject to OSHA enforcement if it simply stores its own grain on the farm, sells grain from the farm or grows, or stores and grinds grain on the farm to feed its own livestock. These activities fit within the definition of a farming operation because the activities are 'necessary to gain economic value from grain grown on the farm,'" Hall says. "But the agency also explains that other types of activities on a small farm could be subject to OSHA authority. According to the agency, if a small farm engages in activities that 'are not related to farming operations and are not necessary to gain economic value from products produced on the farm, those activities are not exempt from OSHA enforcement.'"

Examples of these types of activities include handling and storing grain on a farm that's grown on another farm, milling flour on-farm, and processing products like apples and carrots on a farm prior to those products entering distribution channels.

In a policy clarification document, OSHA officials suggest that for any questions regarding the policy and how it might affect your farm's operations and agency regulation, you contact Art Buchanan with the Office of General Industry and Agriculture Enforcement by phone at 202/693-1850.

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