A group of seven House members from Upstate New York, representing more than 90 percent of the state’s dairy farms, have asked the federal government to delay plans for surprise inspections of the state’s dairies to give farmers more time to education themselves and prepare for inspections.
According to The Post-Standard, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based newspaper, efforts to delay these plans are being led by U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it was developing plans to hold surprise inspections of New York’s dairy farmers beginning in 2014 because of safety concerns. The program is similar to one already under way in Wisconsin.
"We've seen a number of accidents and fatalities (on farms) in the last couple of years," Christopher Adams, OSHA's area director in Syracuse said. "This is an industry that we wanted to get into and to help ensure that employees that work in these facilities have a safe workplace."
Now, the coalition of lawmakers is hoping to persuade OSHA for an “indefinite delay” of the inspection program. Together, the seven House members represent more 5,000 of New York’s dairy farms.
"Having run a business for 30 years and having spent many summers growing up on a Herkimer County dairy farm, two things are very clear to me," Hanna said in a statement. "The first is that no one cares more about a safe workplace more than farmers and business owners themselves. The other is that because OSHA fines immediately, these inspections can have a severe impact on small businesses operating on tight margins."
“OSHA should agree to allow New York dairy farmers more time to educate themselves and prepare for inspections,” he added. “We all share the goal of operating farms as safely as possible; let’s simply make sure this program is actually about improving safety and less about collecting fines from hardworking farmers to send to Washington.”
New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton said in Hanna’s release that he agrees with the lawmakers.
“New York’s dairy farmers care deeply about providing a safe environment for their employees, family members and themselves,” Norton said. “While we have been working proactively with OSHA on the future inspections, it is imperative that our farms have the time and resources to meet the new demands placed on their businesses. We greatly appreciate the New York Representatives looking into these concerns to find a workable solution that will help our farms implement additional safety protocols while also supporting a critical sector of the state’s rural economy.”
The Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times reports that anxiety surrounding the OSHA inspections is persuasive among the state’s farmers for a good reason. In 2012, inspection officers from the agency’s 24-county central New York region handed out 1,346 violation citations to businesses during 592 inspections. Fines totaled $2.6 million, with the average about $2,500 and the highest about $7,000. The inspections included various businesses, including agriculture, manufacturing and construction. It was unclear how many of the violations pertained to farms.
Currently, OSHA officers inspect dairy farmers only when they receive a safety- or health-related complaint or feral from an employee, resident or other agency. Read more.