The fear of OSHA inspecting the storage facilities of small farming operations seems to have been quelled.
In 2011 OSHA issued a memo which led some inspectors to believe they were authorized to inspect grain storage facilities on private farms. The memo led to the inspection of a private grain storage facility in Atkinson, Nebraska resulting in approximately $132,000 in fines.
In December, 2013, U.S. Senator Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) drafted a letter, signed by 42 other senators, to the Department of Labor (DOL) questioning OSHA’s authority to inspect private grain storage facilities. Addressing the 2011 memo, Johanns wrote “[i]t has come to our attention that OSHA is now interpreting this provision so narrowly that virtually every grain farm in the country would be subject to OSHA regulations. OSHA’s interpretation defies the intent of Congress in exempting farming operations from the standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.” Sen. Johanns Press Release Dec. 20, 2013; including full copy of the letter.
In response to the letter, the Department of Labor withdrew the 2011 memo and re-emphasized the limitations of OSHA’s authority to inspect small farming operations. The DOL explained the “2011 memorandum was intended to provide clarification and not to change longstanding OSHA policy.” Admitting the confusion caused by the 2011 memo, the DOL agreed to work with USDA in issuing new guidance. Furthermore, OSHA inspectors have been instructed to check with the DOL when determining whether a farming operation is exempt.
OSHA has essentially agreed to let small farm operations police themselves with grain bin safety for the time being.