Following complaints that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had improperly attempted to enforce workplace safety rules on farms with 10 or fewer employees, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has assured members of the House Education & the Workforce Committee that OSHA will withdraw a June 2011 memorandum to regional administrators and state  plan designees about limitations on their authority to “conduct enforcement activities at small farming operations during OSHA’s grain safety campaign.” DOL plans to issue new guidance in consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and organizations representing farmers.

Committee members contended that OSHA’s memorandum redefined “farming operations” to allow OSHA inspectors onto family farms. Their January 2014 letter stated that under OSHA’s “new and unprecedented logic, it appears anything outside of the actual growing of crops and raising livestock could be deemed ‘non-farming operations’ that would subject family farms to OSHA inspections. The guidance is a clear attempt to circumvent the law and the will of Congress.”

According to DOL, the memorandum was part of OSHA’s effort to reduce fatalities in grain-storage facilities and structures; it was “intended to provide clarification and not to change longstanding OSHA policy.” DOL also stated, “The Department takes seriously the congressional concerns raised in your letter and intends to fully comply with the small farms exemption.” In 2011, DOL indicated that it planned to adopt workplace safety provisions for youth working in agriculture, and similar concerns about intrusions on family farms forced the Obama administration to withdraw the proposal the following year. Additional information about the action appears in Issue 438 of this Update. See House Education & the Workforce Committee News Release, February 11, 2014.