Grain News

OSHA Issues Memo to Clarify Policy on Small Farm Enforcement Authority

Date Posted: July 30, 2014

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on July 29 issued a memorandum attempting to clarify its policy on enforcing its regulations on small farms, defined as those with 10 or fewer employees.

Joshua Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, on July 30 told a media teleconference that his agency has always and still abides by a 1976 congressional appropriations rider forbidding OSHA from enforcing its standards and regulations on small farms.

The issue has arisen since 2011, when OSHA issued a guidance on regulatory enforcement at grain storage facilities, following a series of fatal or near-fatal grain entrapment incidents in grain elevators around the country, including the deaths of two teenagers working in a grain bin at a commercial elevator in Illinois.

Since then, some farmers have complained about OSHA inspectors attempting to issue citations for standard violations at on-farm storage facilities.

Barab said the new memorandum is intended to distinguish between a small farming operation and a commercial grain operation.

He added that the memorandum incorporates suggestions from grain industry and farmer organizations, including the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Bureau, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Corn Growers Association, and American Soybean Association.

The memo repeats OSHA's definition of a farming operation as "any operation involved in the growing or harvesting of crops or the raising of livestock or poultry, or related activities conducted by a farmer on sites such as farms, ranches, orchards, dairy farms or similar farming operations."

The memo continues: "Crop farming operation activities include preparing the ground, sowing seeds, watering, weeding, spraying, harvesting, and all related activities necessary for these operations, such as storing, fumigating, and drying crops grown on the farm.

"An exempt small farm would not become subject to OSHA enforcement simply because, for example, it stores its own grain on the farm or sells that grain from the farm.

"Onsite storage or sale of grain grown on the farm would constitute a 'related activity' under OSHA's interpretation of 'farming operation' because it is necessary to gain economic value from grain grown on the farm.

"Similarly, a small farm that grows grain to feed its own livestock, and stores and grinds that grain on the farm would not become subject to OSHA enforcement because of those activities."

The memo goes on to provide examples of activities that may subject a farming operation to OSHA enforcement.

"For example," it said, "if an exempt small farm maintains a grain handling operation storing and selling grain grown on other farms, the grain handling operation would not be exempt from OSHA enforcement under the (1976) appropriations rider...

"...if the employer mills its grain into flour and then uses the flour to make baked goods, those food processing operations would be food manufacturing, not farming.

"Food manufacturing operations are not exempt from OSHA enforcement activities under the appropriations rider, even if they take place on a small farm."

The memo goes on to instruct OSHA inspectors to contact the agency's Office of General Industry and Agriculture Enforcement in Washington, DC in cases where the applicability of the law is unclear.

To view the entire July 29 memorandum, go to

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