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Farmers Fight Back Against OSHA

JOHNSON COUNTY, IA (CBS2/FOX28) -- One regulatory agency could soon be cracking down on farmers in Iowa. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has already fined a farmer in Nebraska $130,000 for violations related to his grain bin. Those bins are vital to any farm that grows corn and soybeans and normally OSHA stays away. But with that big fine in Nebraska, and similar inspections in other Midwestern states, local farmers could easily see the same big penalties.

"Typically we don't have much of a relationship with OSHA, said Johnson County Farmer Steve Swenka. For probably 40 years or longer farms have always been exempt from the OSHA standards."

And with good reason. Oversight and regulation doesn't come easy to places as unique as small family farms.

"You have brand new equipment versus equipment that has been in your family for generations that's still very useful and still very safe and productive, said Swenka.

But now, OSHA is ending inspectors to some Midwestern farms, while saying its not violating the exemption that farms enjoy from OSHA's oversight.

"So what was this non-farming activity that OSHA believes it can regulate? Grain storage, said Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns.

In Nebraska, OSHA claimed that storing grain was different than harvesting it, making it subject to OSHA regulations. Johanns says that's ridiculous.

I grew up on a farm, every farm has grain storage, said Johanns.

Swenka says the violations that have been handed out of obscure and something that family farms like his have never complied with.

"That's something I would expect to see in industry where they might have a 100,000 bushel bin, this is a 5,000 bushel bin.

He says selling all the grain in the bin might not even pay for the equipment needed to comply with the rules that he was never subject to before.

Senator Grassley has already joined in with 41 other Senators questioning OSHA's actions. For an idea of what that $130,000 fine means, installing a new 10,000 bushel bin costs about $35,000. For the cost of the fine, you could install almost four entire grain bins.
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