January 13, 2014

Causing Harm Down on the Farm

Sherzod Abdukadirov

Former Research Fellow
Summary

For decades, Congress exempted small farms from OSHA regulations and the agency complied with congressional request. However, recent OSHA guidance revised the policy and cleared the way for the agency to inspect small farms if they engage in postharvest activities, such as crop cleaning or sun drying. OSHA maintained that its memo simply clarified its existing policy, but the fact that it began fining small farms for the first time in decades signaled that its actions amounted to a change in policy.

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For decades, Congress exempted small farms from OSHA regulations and the agency complied with congressional request. However, recent OSHA guidance revised the policy and cleared the way for the agency to inspect small farms if they engage in postharvest activities, such as crop cleaning or sun drying. OSHA maintained that its memo simply clarified its existing policy, but the fact that it began fining small farms for the first time in decades signaled that its actions amounted to a change in policy.

By resorting to guidance, OSHA avoided the formal rulemaking process, which would have forced the agency to justify the rule's benefits and open the debate up to public comments and congressional review. The process may have also revealed the potential unintended consequences of OSHA's decision.

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