WASHINGTON — Sen. Mike Johanns says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has overstepped its bounds and is picking on small farms in Nebraska and other states.
During a speech on the Senate floor this week, the Nebraska Republican said the agency has levied $132,000 in fines against a small Nebraska farm despite a prohibition against doing so with farming operations that have 10 or fewer employees.
Johanns said OSHA inspectors said the farm willfully violated OSHA regulations associated with atmospheric tests in a grain bin, failure to wear OSHA-approved gear when entering a grain bin and other issues.
Johanns also wrote a letter to OSHA on Friday signed by 42 of his colleagues, including three Democrats.
The letter writers accuse the agency of trying to bypass the law by making an “artificial distinction” that a farm's grain bins represent an operation separate from the farming operation.
They wrote that the grain bins actually are integral parts of the farming operation because they allow farmers to avoid selling immediately after a harvest when prices typically are low.
Talking to reporters at the Capitol this week, Johanns cited his own background growing up on a farm in Iowa and working around equipment that can prove deadly in an accident.
“I mean, it's dangerous business,” Johanns said. “But we were instructed by our parents. You knew the danger of it. ... All of those things, that's part of growing up on a farm.”
Officials at OSHA headquarters in Washington referred questions about Johanns' beef to an agency spokeswoman in Chicago, who did not return phone calls.
Johanns said he had yet to hear from the agency, but predicted that ultimately OSHA would back down.
“I think we'll get them corralled back in,” Johanns said.