The Occupational Safety and Health Agency hasn't spent a lot of time in recent years inspecting farm operations for worker safety compliance, but that's about to change thanks to a new initiative announced by Wisconsin’s state OSHA office.

During the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin annual meeting in Madison, Wis., earlier this month, Mary Bauer, an OSHA compliance assistant specialist, explained that a recent increase in on-farm fatalities is prompting the agency to add dairy farms to its list of inspection sites.

While OSHA has applied to farm employers over the years, enforcement has been defunded since 1976. And the agency has not focused on developing standards for agriculture. But, with the general increase in farm size, and the aforementioned increase in fatalities, farms have garnered OSHA’s attention, meaning that you shouldn’t be surprised if OSHA knocks on your dairy’s door one of these days.

Under current OSHA regulations, farms are exempt from OSHA inspections if they employ 10 or less workers at any given time of the year. But Bauer says farms of any size can be inspected if they offer temporary housing for its workers on the property.

“The bottom line is we want all farms to do what they can to create a safe environment for its workforce,” Bayer said. “OSHA won't go and inspect every farm in the state. But we do want to stress that all farm employers are obligated to comply with OSHA regulations — no matter what size they are.”

As an employer, your responsibilities include:

  • To find and minimize workplace hazards to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards.
  • Be familiar with and comply with OSHA standards and regulations.
  • Inform your workers of OSHA and their rights under OSHA.
  • Give workers safe tools and apply appropriate protection.
  • Train workers if standards require it.
  • Establish, update and communicate operation procedures so workers are safe.
  • Report to OSHA within 8 hours an accident that is fatal or results in three workers in the hospital.
  • Keep OSHA reporting logs.
  • Post OSHA posters, citations and allow workers access to their employee medical and exposure records.
  • Do not discriminate against workers who exercise their OSHA rights.
  • Correct cited violations in prescribed period.

Bauer says OSHA visits are always unannounced. A farming operation is defined as any business involved in the growing or harvesting of crops, raising livestock or poultry, or related activities conducted by farmers on rural sites, according to the agency.

Matt Kiefer, an occupational health specialist with the National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield, adds that his group is helping farmers to become compliant if the producer feels they aren't doing enough to implement proper safety measures on the farm.

“Farm safety isn't just about injury prevent, it also involves disease control,” Kiefer notes. “It's the responsibility of the owner to identify any hazards on the property and to provide safety tools to their staff to keep them safe.”

The NFMC has also hired a new staff member to assist farms that need help with becoming OSHA compliant. Kiefer also says owners may have to do more of their own research on farm safety in the future because ag and rural safety funds have been cut in the proposed federal budget being considered by Congress.

For more information about ag safety, check out the National Ag Safety Database. And click here to access OSHA’s Web site.