Recent fines against grain-system operators by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are a violation of federal law, says Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE).
"Dating back to 1976, Congress has said to OSHA through appropriations bills and language in those bills that if a farm has fewer than 10 employees outside the family, you can’t regulate them," Johanns tells AgriTalk. "So OSHA put a memo out in 2011—and I think it slipped by people—talking about grain storage being something different than farming. That went along for the past couple of years until just recently, when OSHA went after a farm in Nebraska and a farm in Ohio."
He says the Nebraska case involves a farm with three employees , only one of whom is not part of the family. He says OSHA levied a fine of $132,000 claiming the farm didn’t comply with rules requiring the proper grain-system equipment and failed to conduct atmospheric testing.
Johanns did not name the operations in question, though he noted in a blog post that the Nebraska farm is located in Holt County. An online review of OSHA fines indicates the last Holt County grain-system inspection to result in a fine occurred June 8, 2011. The agency issued notifications about safety precautions to grain-elevator operators in August 2010 and February 2011, its website states.
The senator says he thinks OSHA is using the fines as a testing ground for future regulation of family farm operations and their grain systems.
"Anybody who’s been around agriculture or grew up on a farm knows that it’s part and parcel of what you do," Johanns notes. "What’s next? Is hay storage a violation of OSHA rules? Is manure storage a violation?"
Johanns has begun circulating a letter and is hopeful U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez will intervene. He says that he has the backing of at least 20 Republican senators and that he wants to add Senate Democrats, as well.
Click the play button below to hear the complete AgriTalk interview with Johanns: