Wicker & Cochran Demand Stop to OSHA Actions Against Small Farms

Labor Dept. Agency Circumvents 37-Year Prohibition on Regulating Family Farms

December 20, 2013

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today demanded that the Obama administration immediately cease regulatory actions against small, family-owned farm operations--punitive actions that fly in the face of a 37-year-old prohibition against such practices.

Wicker and Cochran have signed a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez that pointedly asks that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cease taking regulatory actions against small farms with grain storage bins. Small farms, defined as those employing 10 or fewer workers, have been specifically exempted by Congress from such oversight since 1976.

“This is yet another example of Washington bureaucrats meddling in the lives of Americans,” Wicker said. “OSHA has no business regulating grain storage bins on family farms, and the agency should put a stop to it immediately.”

“The way the administration is going about putting OSHA on family-owned farms is unconscionable.  Congress specifically exempts small farming operations from the heavy hand of this bureaucracy.  OSHA must stop this overreach and adhere to the law,” said Cochran, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Using a narrow interpretation of the congressional probation and skewed interpretation of grain bin operations, OSHA has determined that small farming operations are subject to its regulatory reach, oversight and fines.  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.

“In viewing a farm’s ‘grain bin operation’ as somehow distinct from its farming operation, OSHA is creating an artificial distinction in an apparent effort to circumvent the Congressional prohibition on regulating farms,” the Senators wrote.  “The use of grain bins is an integral part of farming operations.  Without grain bins, farmers must sell corn and soybeans immediately after harvest, when prices are usually low.  Storing grain in bins is thus a fundamental aspect of farming.  Any farm that employs 10 or fewer employees and used grain bins only for storage prior to marketing should be exempt, as required by law, from OSHA regulations.”

The letter signed by 43 Senators asks Perez to take three steps:

  • Cease all OSHA actions predicated on the skewed interpretation of the congressional exemption;
  • Require OSHA to correct its misinterpretation after seeking guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and agriculture-related organizations; and,
  • Require OSHA to provide a list and description of the regulatory actions taken since 2011 against farms with incorrectly categorized non-farming activities and 10 or fewer employees.
Finally, the letter accuses OSHA of “bureaucratic mission creep” and says the agency should ask Congress for such regulatory authority.

“Worker safety is an important concern for all of us—including the many farmers who probably know better than OSHA regulators how to keep themselves and their employees safe on farms.  If the Administration believes that OSHA should be able to enforce its regulations on farms, it should make that case to Congress rather than twisting the law in the service of bureaucratic mission creep.  Until then, Congress has spoken clearly and we sincerely hope that you will support America’s farmers and respect the intent of Congress by reining in OSHA,” the letter states.