Is it Time to Stop Exempting Farms from Safety Rules?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Grain bin entrapment (graphic: Cornell University Coopertative Extension)

With fatalities on the rise in one type of agricultural operation, the question has been raised whether it is time for farms to come under work-place safety regulations.


The deaths in question have occurred in grain silos or other storage facilities. An investigation by The Center for Public Integrity found worker entrapment deaths involving corn, wheat, barley or soybeans reached a peak three years ago, when 51 incidents were reported.


During these incidents, 26 people were killed, with two-thirds of the accidents occurring on farms, including four incidents involving workers younger than 16. Grain bin suffocation deaths have averaged ten a year for the past 50 years.


Purdue University Professor William Field has estimated that 48% of all grain entrapments took place at commercial facilities and 52% on farms. But most farms aren’t subject to oversight by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which regulates working conditions in most businesses.


“At some point we’re going to have to decide whether these incidents are just accidental … [or] somebody’s really making horrendous decisions that approach a criminal level,” William Field, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University who has studied entrapments since 1978, told The Center for Public Integrity. “It’s intentional risk-taking on the part of the managers or someone in a supervisory capacity that ends up in some horrific incidents. The bottom line is if you ask them why they did it, it was because it was more profitable to do it that way.”

 -David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Rethinking OSHA Exemption for Farms (by Jim Morris, Center for Public Integrity)

Worker Suffocations Persist As Grain Storage Soars, Employers Flout Safety Rules (by Jim Morris, Center for Public Integrity)

FDA Finally Proposes Overhaul of Food Safety for Produce, Dairy, Seafood and Drinking Water (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Obama Gives Up Fight to Restrict Child Labor on Non-Family Farms (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Labor Department Clashes with Farm Groups over Child Labor Laws (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Dying in the Fields: Farm Workers Sue California (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


yarply 5 years ago
With all the people slipping, falling and dieing coming out of their tubs, electrocuting themselves, and setting fires to their homes maybe its time to stop exempting home-place from safety regulations. Lets just cut through all the uknow what. because thats what we are really talking about. That is where this all leads.
howard 5 years ago
If the authors think farm workplaces are not covered by health and safety laws, they need to get out a lot more.
yarply 5 years ago
Ohhh. 23 deaths. Major crisis. Here comes the government. 23 deaths out of 300 million and this is some big problem that the government needs to take control of. Of course on family farms no doubt. Nazis.

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