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Should OSHA be allowed to inspect small farms?

As many people in Colorado know, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has long been tasked with ensuring that workplaces across the country are safe for employees. The agency performs periodic inspections and often investigates workplaces after a worker is injured — fining companies who are in violation of certain laws. Although OSHA’s role in ensuring workplace safety is generally seen as a good thing, some sectors would rather not have anything to do with OSHA.

One area that has been off limits to OSHA inspectors is the small farming industry. For nearly 40 years, farms with 10 employees or fewer were exempt from OSHA reviews. However, an increase in fatal accidents involving grain elevators has prompted some to worry that OSHA may step in. 

Three years ago, a congressional memo hinted that OSHA might be allowed to inspect “post-harvest activities” at small farms. Although the agency’s deputy administrator recently said OSHA does not intend to unfairly intrude on small farm operations, many farmers — perhaps some in Colorado — are worried that a rule change is being considered.

Because many small farm operations are family based, most feel that OSHA’s intervention is unnecessary. With family members making up the core — if not all — of the operation, these small businesses have every motivation to keep their workplaces safe for employees.

What do you think about the idea of OSHA investigating certain aspects of small farm operations? Would it make for safer operations, or would investigators just get in the way?

Source: Insurance Journal, “Keep Away from Small Farms, Lawmakers Tell Safety Agency OSHA,” Henry C. Jackson, Feb. 4, 2014

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