U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., Wednesday said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is illegally fining small farms and overstepping its bounds when it comes to agricultural regulation.
On the Senate floor, Johanns explained that since 1976, federal law has prohibited OSHA-appropriated funds from being used for rules or regulations that apply to farming operations with 10 or fewer employees.
However, Johanns said, an ongoing situation in in Holt County, Neb., has caught his attention. OSHA claims the grain bins on the farm, which employs one person, are not part of farm operations and thus are not exempt from regulation.
According to Johanns, under that logic, nearly every farm in the country would be outside the scope of Congress' exemption because almost all farms use some sort of grain storage facility as part of their normal farm operations.
"OSHA's claim that the storage of grain is not part of farming is absolutely incredible. And it's absurd," Johanns said.
Johanns said he will ask Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to direct OSHA to cease all actions contrary to Congressional direction with regards to regulating family-owned farms with fewer than 10 employees.
"My intent is to stop OSHA in their tracks," Johanns said. "The simple reality is OSHA inspectors are the ones breaking the law, not hard-working ag producers in Nebraska and across the country.
"Congress has been clear for decades that costly OSHA regulations do not apply to small, family-run farms. Now OSHA is making up its own rules, and that's unacceptable."
Johanns said the OSHA fines against the Holt County farm in question total approximately $132,000, even while no injuries have occurred.
"They threw the book at this farmer," Johanns said. "Worker safety is an important concern, but farmers know better than bureaucrats how to keep their employees and family safe."