WASHINGTON — U.S. Representative Richard Hanna, chairman of the Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce, is leading a bipartisan group of upstate New York House members to call on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to delay a new, random inspection program of New York dairy farms set to begin next year.
The seven members of Congress who sent the letter represent more than 5,000 dairy farms, which totals more than 90 percent of all New York’s dairy farms.
Upstate dairies of all sizes could be targeted by OSHA for surprise, random inspections under this first-ever program in the state, said Hanna. In a letter to Dr. David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, the representatives ask OSHA delay the agency’s recently announced New York Dairy Local Emphasis Program scheduled to begin in July 2014. Hanna noted many small dairy farms lack the financial and manpower to make capital and other costly farm improvements in such a short time in order to avoid immediate fines by OSHA.
“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, R-Barneveld, said in a news release. “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. 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.”
The members also called on OSHA to clarify its definition of “temporary farm worker” to help give farmers more clarity to if they are eligible for an OSHA inspection.
New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton said he agrees with the members of Congress.
“New York’s dairy farmers care deeply about providing a safe environment for their employees, family members and themselves,” Norton said in the release. “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.”