The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration plays a vital role in the enforcement of workplace safety. But OSHA has no power to investigate workplace accidents, enforce safety rules, and impose violations for safety violations at small farms. This removes a layer of deterrence against negligent farms. A small farm is not exempt from these accidents, however. Some evidence even shows that, on average, these farms are more dangerous than other workplaces.
Federal funds cannot be used for OSHA regulations on a farm with 10 or less non-family workers. Almost 93 percent of farms in this country, employing over 1.2 million workers, fall within this category. The exemption began with a rider to an OSHA appropriation bill in 1976 that has been consistently applied to budget bills for over 40 years.
OSHA does not track the number of fatalities at exempt farms. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, there were 333 employees killed at farms with 10 or less employees from 2011 through 2016. OSHA had no power to investigate these accidents although some states may have inspected these farms. A public advocacy group that reviewed OSHA documents found 63 unidentified small farm deaths from 2013 through mid-2018. As such, they were noted on the OSHA database as being exempt from investigation because they occurred on a small farm.
California, Oregon, and Washington have less worker fatalities because these states allow safety inspections on small farms. However, these states and other states that enforce safety standards at private job sites in accordance with agreements with OSHA cannot use OSHA funds for these activities.
Also, larger farms with at least 11 workers have safer conditions, according to a 1999 study. Because of federal requirements, workers at larger farms are more likely to have safety goggles, respirators, and other safety equipment.
Departures from OSHA standards may be cited in civil lawsuits for fatalities and injuries at small farms, as well as workers’ compensation claims. However, there are no guarantees that judges will allow the submission of these standards into evidence.
A worker suffering a workplace injury should seek immediate legal assistance to assure that they protect their right to compensation. An attorney can help ensure that they have access to evidence and available legal remedies.