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Module 1: Agriculture and OSHA

Farm machine in a field

OSHA was created as a result of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. It exists to assure safe and heathful working conditions in the United States. Safety and health standards were developed, and enforcement is provided through consultation and worksite inspections. OSHA rules and regulations establish the minimum guidance for workplace safety and health. Where there are no specific standards to address a hazard, employers must comply with the General Duty Clause of the Act, which states that all employers must provide a work environment "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm."

OSHA's Appropriations Act EXEMPTS qualifying "small farming operations" from enforcement or administration of all rules, regulations, standards, or orders under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, including rules affecting consultation and technical assistance or education and training services.

  • "Small farming operations" applies to those that have ten (10) or fewer employees and have had no temporary labor camp (TLC) activity within the prior twelve (12) months.
  • Family members of farm employers are NOT counted when determining the number of employees. This can include children, the spouse, parents, or grandparents. It also includes legal family members such as stepchildren or adopted children.
  • Exempted farming operations will NOT be inspected by OSHA, even if the result of an employee complaint, fatality, or catastrophe (multiple serious injured employees); however, OSHA regulations for safety and health still apply, and the exemption does not apply to civil actions/lawsuits.

Note: If your farming operations are covered by a "state-plan" rather than the federal OSHA requirements, your state may have more stringent regulations, and may have inspection and enforcement power that federal OSHA does not. Virginia, for example, is covered by a "state-plan".

If Federal OSHA would be notified, they may send someone out to verify the nature of the operations, and if the SIC is verified and the exemption applies, they will recuse themselves at that time. State-plans may have citation and enforcement powers that federal OSHA does not.

29 CFR 1928 are the OSHA regulations covering agricultural operations and farming. They are fairly limited even though it is one of the most dangerous professions.

Agrucultural operations would include any activities involved in the growing and harvesting of crops, plants, vines, fruit trees, nut trees, ornamental plants, egg production, the raising of livestock (including poultry and fish), as well as livestock products. These activities are conducted on sites such as farms, ranches, orchards, dairy farms, etc.

Pertinent standards to farming include:

  • Roll-Over Protective Structures (ROPS) are covered in sections 1928.52 and 1928.53 of the standard.
  • Guarding of Moving Machinery Parts of Farm Field Equipment, Farmstead Equipment, and Cotton Gins is found in 1928.57.
  • Field Sanitation is covered in 1928.110.

Limited parts of 29 CFR 1910 for General Industry also applies to agricultural operations.

  • Temporary Labor Camps are covered in 1910.142.
  • Storage and Handling of Anhydrous Ammonia is covered in 1910.111(a) and (b).
  • Logging Operations are covered in 1910.266.
  • Specifications for Accident Prevention Signs and Tags - Slow-Moving Vehicle Emblem is covered in 1910.145(d)(10).
  • Hazard Communication requirements are found in 1910.1200.
  • Cadmium is covered in 1910.1027.
  • Retention of Department of Transportation Markings, Placards and Labels is covered in 1910.1201.

Except to the extent outlined, 29 CFR 1910 Subparts B through T and Subpart Z do NOT apply to agricultural operations.

There are some non-agricultural operations that may be performed on a farm where other standards may apply.

  • If you have a processing facility, and make apple cider from your apples, for example, or mill grain into flour and make baked goods, these "food processing operations"  would be covered by the General Industry standards (29 CFR 1910).
  • If you are performing construction-type activities or renovations on your farm, this type of work would be covered under the Construction standards (29 CFR 1926).

What rights do you have under OSHA?

  • You have the right to a safe and healthful workplace;
  • You have the right to know about hazardous chemical that you may come in contact with;
  • You have the right to report an injury or illness to your employer;
  • You have the right to file a complaint or request a hazard correction from your employer;
  • You have a right to be free from retaliation for exercising your rights;
  • You have a limited right to refuse work because of a hazardous condition; and
  • A knowledge of what your employer is responsible for.

Workers may file a confidential complaint with OSHA if they believe a violation of a safety or health standard, or an imminent danger situation, exists in the workplace. Workers do not have to know whether a specific OSHA standard has been violation in order to file a complaint. The complaint should be filed as soon as possible after noticing the hazard or lack of compliance because OSHA citations may only be issued for violations that currently exist or existed in the past six months.

Written complaints that are signed by a worker or representative, and submitted to the closest OSHA Area Office, are more likely to result in onsite OSHA inspections. Please provide your name, address, and telephone number. You may request that this information not be revealed to the employer. You have the right to find out what action(s) OSHA took regarding the complaint, and request a review if an inspection is not made.

Complaints received from workers in OSHA-approved state-plan states will be forwarded to the appropriate state for response.

Complaints may be filed:

  • Online
  • By fax or mail
  • By calling 1-800-321-OSHA
  • In-person at an OSHA office

OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than twenty statutes. Rights afforded by these provisions include, but are not limited to:

  • Worker participation in safety and health activities;
  • Reporting a work-related injury, illness, or fatality; or
  • Reporting a violation of the statutes.

Protection from discrimination means that an employer cannot retaliate by taking "adverse action" against workers. You have thirty (30) days to complain to OSHA if you believe your employer has taken an advers action. Adverse actions include:

  • Firing or laying off
  • Demoting/reassignment
  • Intimidation/harassment/making threats
  • Denial of benefits
  • Failing to hire or rehire/blacklisting
  • Denying overtime
  • Reducing pay or hours
  • Denying promotion
  • Disciplining

Employees have a limited right under the OSH Act to refuse to a job because conditions are hazardous. You may do so under the Act only when:

  1. You believe that you face death or serious injury (and the situaton is so clearly hazardous that any reasonable person would believe the same thing);
  2. You have tried to get your employer to correct the condition, and there is no other way to do the job safetly; and 
  3. There is an imminent threat to an employee's life, and there is not enough time to work through your employer or OSHA.

Employers are responsible for the following:

  • Providing a workplace free from recognized hazards and comply with OSHA standards;
  • Providing training required by OSHA standards;
  • Keeping records of injuries and illnesses;
  • Providing medical exams when required by OSHA standards and providing workers access to their exposure and medical records;
  • Not discriminating against workers who exercise their rights under the Act (Section 11(c));
  • Posting OSHA citations and hazard correction notices; and
  • Providing and paying for most PPE.

For more information on hazard control, click here.