Posted On: June 28, 2023

Farming Safety: OSHA's Agriculture Standards for Farmers

Farming is a cornerstone of our society, providing us with the food and resources we rely on every day. However, it is also an industry that poses significant risks and hazards to those working in it. The agricultural sector is recognized as one of the most dangerous industries, carrying a significant risk of both fatal and nonfatal injuries. Farmers themselves face elevated risks as they are exposed to various hazards inherent in their work. Additionally, farming stands out from other industries due to the involvement of family members who often work and reside on the same premises, thereby sharing the vulnerability to fatal and nonfatal injuries.

To ensure the well-being of farmers and promote a safer working environment, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established a set of agriculture safety standards specifically tailored to address the unique challenges of the farming industry. In this blog, we’ll discuss OSHA's agriculture safety standards and explore how they play a crucial role in safeguarding the lives and health of farmers. 

Farming Safety 

Farmworkers face significant risks of farm accidents, including: 

  • Fatalities 
  • Injuries 
  • Work-related lung diseases 
  • Noise-induced hearing loss 
  • Skin diseases 
  • Certain types of cancers linked to chemical exposure and prolonged sun exposure 

According to ​​statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, the fatality rate for farmworkers stood at 21.4 per 100,000 employees, significantly higher than the overall occupational fatality rate across all industries, which was only 3.6 per 100,000 workers during the same year. This means that there were 417 workplace fatalities, specifically in agriculture, in 2016. 

Moreover, an analysis of injuries reported by wage-earning crop workers between 2008 and 2010 revealed that half of the reported injuries were sprains or strains, indicating the need for effective ergonomic interventions to address these issues. Furthermore, in 2017, over 2 million full-time workers were exposed to these risks associated with agricultural work. 

To address these hazards, OSHA has established standards specifically for agricultural operations. OSHA provides valuable information on addressing common farm hazards, along with additional resources such as publications, to assist employers and employees in establishing and maintaining safe and healthy work environments. 

OSHA Agriculture Regulations

Daily, around 100 workers in the agricultural industry are injured severely enough to miss workdays. OSHA agriculture standards serve as a set of guidelines and requirements established by OSHA specifically for the farming industry. These regulations aim to promote safe working conditions, reduce occupational hazards, and protect the health and well-being of farmers, agricultural workers, and others involved in farming operations. 

The OSHA agriculture standards encompass six subparts, with only three offering detailed guidance on reducing specific hazards without referencing other standards. These subparts are as follows: 

  • Subpart C - Roll-Over Protective Structures: This subpart consists of three standards (51, 1928.52, and 1928.53) that outline requirements for implementing roll-over protective structures on tractors. It also includes test procedures and performance criteria for these structures. 

Appendix A provides safety instructions for tractor operators, while Appendix B contains diagrams illustrating safe procedures during tractor operation. 

  • 1928 Subpart D - Safety for Agricultural Equipment: At present, this subpart comprises only one section, Section 57, which focuses on the guarding of farm field equipment, farmstead equipment, and cotton gins. It includes safety regulations related to the storage, operation, and maintenance of agricultural machinery.
  • 1928 Subpart I - General Environmental Controls: The sole standard within this subpart is 1928.110, which addresses field sanitation. It mandates employers to provide an ample supply of drinking water, toilet facilities, and handwashing stations for employees working in the fields. 

The remaining subparts within Part 1928 are reserved for future use, including Subparts E, F, G, H, I, J, K, and L. Subpart M covers Occupational Health and references standards from general industry regulations on handling the toxic substance cadmium. Subpart A outlines the purpose of the rules (standard 1928.1), while Subpart B lists the applicable standards borrowed from Part 1910, which deals with general industry safety regulations. 

OSHA General Industry Standards 

Like all industries, agricultural workers are afforded protection under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970. This comprehensive provision mandates that employers must provide their employees with a work environment that is devoid of acknowledged hazards capable of causing severe physical harm or death. It places the responsibility on employers to ensure that potential dangers are identified and addressed to safeguard the well-being of their workers.

The General Duty Clause is intentionally expansive, providing regulators with the authority to address unsafe circumstances not covered by other specific standards. However, when crafting OSHA standards, the drafters aim to achieve specificity whenever feasible. In Part 1928 of the Federal Regulations, a comprehensive compilation of standards applicable to general industry that apply to farm safety is clearly outlined. These standards encompass the following: 

  • 142 - Temporary labor camps: This standard provides a comprehensive set of safety regulations specifically for temporary worker housing. It includes guidelines to prevent issues such as flooding, overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and other potential health hazards. 
  • 111(a) and (b) - Storage and handling of anhydrous ammonia: Anhydrous ammonia is a highly concentrated nitrogen fertilizer widely used in commercial agriculture. OSHA requires farmers to adhere to existing standards regarding its safe use, storage, and handling. 
  • 266 - Logging operations: This set of rules focuses on enhancing safety during tree harvesting operations. It outlines specific requirements for personal protective equipment, specifications for chain saws and other machinery, and essential first-aid protocols. 
  • 145 - Slow-moving vehicles: Agricultural standard 1928.21(a)(4) references General Industry standard 1910.145, which pertains to slow-moving vehicles. While the agricultural standard may appear confusing, it primarily requires farmers to label their slow-moving vehicles using the hazard signs specified in the broader standard 1910.145, which covers a wider range of necessary signs. 
  • 1200 - Hazard communication: This standard mandates the labeling of toxic and hazardous substances, including certain pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers used in agriculture. 
  • 1027 - Cadmium: Phosphate fertilizers often contain cadmium, a toxic trace element subject to strict handling requirements outlined in this standard for general industry. 
  • 1201 - Retention of DOT markings, placards, and labels: This standard applies to the agriculture industry due to the hazardous nature of certain fertilizers and pesticides. It requires handlers of such materials to retain the Department of Transportation (DOT) labels on packages until they are spotless. 

Farm Child Labor Laws 

Farm child labor laws refer to regulations that govern the employment of children in agricultural activities. All states have adopted some version of their own child labor laws. These laws aim to protect the well-being, safety, and educational development of young individuals involved in farm work. 

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes child labor laws to ensure the safety of children in the workplace and to prevent any interference with their health or education. The primary objective of the FLSA is to combat exploitative child labor practices. To achieve this goal, child labor laws set specific standards for employing children under the age of 16 and outline restrictions on hazardous occupations for children.

However, the FLSA provides exemptions from child labor provisions for children engaged in agricultural work outside of school hours, considering the unique circumstances of the farming industry. This means that children under 16 can be legally employed in the agricultural sector under certain conditions. For occupations outside of agriculture or situations where the agricultural exemptions do not apply, the general minimum work age is typically set at 16 years old. 

While child labor laws can vary by state, here are some common elements and principles typically covered by farm child labor laws:

Minimum Age Requirements 

State child labor laws follow the FLSA very closely, like setting a similar minimum age for employment. The minimum age can vary depending on the type of work, the number of hours, and the potential hazards involved. It is generally set to ensure that children are physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of handling the demands and risks of agricultural tasks.

Restricted Hazardous Work 

Eleven jobs on a farm are considered hazardous work, and children under 16 are prohibited from working them, with limited exceptions. These laws often prohibit or restrict children from engaging in specific hazardous activities on farms. Hazardous work may include operating heavy machinery, handling chemicals, working at heights, or performing tasks that pose a significant risk to their safety and well-being. The aim is to protect children from potentially dangerous situations and prevent accidents and injuries. 

Working Hours and Conditions 

The federal government and 10 states set no maximum on the number of hours per day or week a young person can work on farms.  Farm child labor laws typically impose limitations surrounding school days and school hours. These laws prioritize the education of children by ensuring that farm work does not interfere with their schooling. Additionally, they may require breaks, rest periods, and adequate working conditions to protect children's health and promote their overall well-being. 

Migrant Farm Workers 

The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) serves as the primary federal employment law governing farm workers. Although the law does not explicitly grant farmworkers the right to join labor unions or engage in collective bargaining, it does include several significant protections for their benefit.

The MSPA safeguards the rights of migrant and seasonal agricultural workers through the establishment of employment standards that cover various aspects, including wages, housing, transportation, disclosures, and recordkeeping. Additionally, the MSPA mandates that farm labor contractors must register with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to ensure compliance with the law and provide necessary protections to workers. 

For additional information on the MSPA, please check out the Employment Law Guide or Fact Sheet 49

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