Senators write letter to OSHA over concerns for small farmers

tractorWASHINGTON — Despite assurances that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will back off efforts to regulate small farm grain storage, U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) are stressing that the agency must first comply with a long-standing directive that protects small, family-owned farms from OSHA regulations.

In December, the Mississippi senators were among 43 senators who demanded that OSHA end regulatory actions against small farms with grain storage bins, actions that defied a congressional prohibition on regulating small farms that has been in place since 1976. The prohibition was reinforced in the omnibus appropriations bill approved by Congress last week.

On Wednesday, an OSHA official responded to the senators’ letter by acknowledging that small farms with grain storage facilities are exempt from regulations, and pledged to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to clarify rules regarding grain storage.

“While I appreciate the acknowledgment that OSHA overstepped its authority, the agency must first and foremost agree to comply with the law that specifically exempts family-owned farms from OSHA regulations.  There can be no quibbling over that point even with the commitment to clarify grain storage regulations,” said Cochran, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The OSHA agreement to revisit its grain bin operation regulations begins to respond to language included in HR.3547 that encouraged OSHA to work with the USDA “before moving forward with any attempts to redefine and regulate post-harvest activities.”

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, according to the senators.

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