IN FOCUS: OSHA clears the air over small farm enforcement

Published on: Jan 28, 2014

IN FOCUS: OSHA clears the air over small farm enforcementWITH farm-state members of Congress sounding the alarm over actions taken against small grain farms by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a top Department of Labor official said the intent, practice or policy of the agency has never been to regulate small grain farms, but instead to comply with a long-standing rider included in appropriations bills for more than three decades.

Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary for OSHA, said his agency was working to clear up “confusion” over a 2011 memo issued in response to an alarmingly high number of grain engulfments and associated fatalities. He said OSHA was working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update its guidance to inspectors to resolve any outstanding misunderstanding regarding small farms.

In December 2013, Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) rallied 42 other members of the Senate calling on OSHA to update its guidance and reaffirm its adherence to the small farm rider. Some in the industry interpreted the 2011 memo as OSHA asserting that on-farm grain storage and handling was not part of farm operations, and therefore might be subject to OSHA jurisdiction and enforcement.

Barab, however, said the 2011 memo was merely designed to address the increased number of fatalities resulting from engulfments, not to expand the scope of OSHA enforcement to small farms. That same year the agency sent letters to any grain facility informing them of the high number of fatalities and grain engulfments, and offered compliance assistance training and technical assistance.

In 2010, there were 57 engulfments resulting in 31 fatalities. But the 2011 campaign "saved lives," Barab said, noting that in 2012 fatalities dropped to 8 resulting from 19 engulfments. He credited cooperation from industry and academia for their work in increasing attention and awareness to grain handling and storage safety.

Listen in: OSHA’s Jordan Barab talks about how the agency views its role in keeping employees safe while respecting its obligations under the small farm rider during the latest Feedstuffs In Focus podcast. Listen to the discussion here.

*Feedstuffs policy editor Jacqui Fatka contributed to this report.