CANTON - Farmers were told during a webinar Friday that random, unannounced inspections will be started in July by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at dairy farms across upstate New York.
Farmers, who will be fined for hazards found by inspectors, asked lots of questions about OSHAs newly hatched Local Emphasis Program for dairy farms during the webinar led by Ronald L. Williams, compliance assistance specialist at OSHAs Syracuse office. The office serves a 24-county Central New York region that includes the north country.
Farmers have a good reason to be concerned about the program launched by OSHA, which in 2012 started a similar inspection program in Wisconsin for dairy farms. The most current OSHA statistics from 2012 show that 1,346 fines were issued in Central New York to businesses across the region, including farms. Fines averaged about $2,500, with the highest about $7,000.
Random OSHA inspections are permitted only on farms that have 11 or more employees, and/or have established a temporary labor camp during the past 12 months, Mr. Williams said. Despite what many believe, OSHA does not have the authority to inspect the housing of farmworkers. Those inspections are done by the Department of Labors Wage and Hour Division.
Mr. Williams presentation highlighted a dozen hazardous areas that OSHA inspectors focus on during visits, such as a failure to implement barriers at manure lagoons, to maintain protective equipment on tractors and skid-steer loaders and to provide training programs to safeguard employees from being harmed by machinery and chemicals.
All tractors manufactured after October 1976, for example, must be equipped with roll-over protective structures, Mr. Williams said. Sink eyewash stations must be located near where corrosive chemicals are used and warning signs must be posted at hazardous areas.
During visits, inspectors will also ask whether accidents with employees involving cattle and machinery have occurred, Mr. Williams said.
If we come to your establishment, were going to look to see if youve had accidents where employees have been struck by cows and bulls, he said. Were going to check if you have been sitting down with employees and training them how to handle animals.
Manure lagoons that dont have barriers surrounding them may also pose a risk to employees who operate tanker trucks and tractors near their perimeter, Mr. Williams said. During his presentation, he showed pictures from an accident in which a tanker truck slid into a lagoon, forcing an employee to make a dangerous escape while the vehicles tires were still moving.
You need something to stop a tanker or slow-moving tractor from backing into a lagoon, Mr. Williams said, adding that gates or stop-logs could be used to do so.
Responding to a question about whether farmers will have a chance to correct violations before they are fined by OSHA, Mr. Williams answered that fines are usually assessed by inspectors during visits.
If its a serious hazard, there will be a proposed fine, even if the hazard was corrected during the inspection, he said.
OSHA has not decided how many random inspections will be conducted in upstate New York this year, Mr. Williams said. He said that the number conducted by the Syracuse office will depend on how busy its staff is with other priorities.
Were covering 24 counties here, and our first priority is for unplanned events, referrals and complaints, he said. Iinspections will also be conducted by our Buffalo and Albany offices, and were going to randomly select sites from all farms across New York state.
Some upstate farmers have raised concerns about OSHA inspectors who have conducted inspections with representatives from activist groups, according to Karl J. Czymmek, senior extension associate for Cornell Pro-Dairy, who addressed the issue during the webinar. These so-called walk-around representatives are legally allowed to accompany OSHA, but farmers have the right to refuse to allow them on their property, he said. If a farmer refuses their entry, OSHA will then decide whether a representative is needed to conduct the visit, Mr. Czymmek said.
They could decide whether to go without that representative, or could decide to get a warrant to bring a representative in, he said.
The webinar was co-sponsored by Farm Credit East, the Northeast Producers Association, New York Farm Bureau, Cornell Universitys Pro-Dairy program and New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health. The presentation from the webinar is available for playback at http://wdt.me/x85rQG.