Updated: Jul 10, 2020
By Faiza Hasan
We all know that farms can be a dangerous place to work and for that reason, there are laws in place to ensure worker safety. This post contains some of the legal safety precautions for farmworkers that farm employers should understand.
Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH), a division of the Department of Labor and Licensing Regulation, sets and enforces standards for workplace safety and health. MOSH has adopted the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules pertaining to agriculture (29 CFR 1928), although some activities on a small farm are exempt. Check out a previous blog post to see whether your farm fits the small farm exemption. While the standards contain various nuances, this post will highlight the main provisions.
Tractors have a variety of requirements. First, all tractors must have rollover protective structures (ROPS) — a cab or frame which provides a safe environment for the tractor employee/operator in the event of a rollover. Employers must also provide seatbelts on all tractors and are responsible for instructing their employees on the safety procedures related to tractors, including securely fastening their seat belts, avoiding operating tractors near ditches, reducing speed when turning, staying off steep slopes, not allowing others to ride the tractor, setting brakes securely, and using the park lock, if available, once the tractor is stopped. How can employers ensure that workers are following safety procedures? One easy way to remind workers of safety rules is to make a sign outlining the procedures explained above and post the sign in the tractor. Further, employers should encourage their workers to attend farm safety trainings.
Employers also need to service all their equipment yearly, and conduct a yearly training session for every employee about safe operation of the tractor. The following instructions should be given to each employee: 1) guards should always be in place when the machine is in operation, 2) no one other than the person authorized to use the tractor or other farm field equipment should be allowed on, and 3) the power source must be disconnected and all machine movement should halt before servicing or adjusting the engine. Ultimately, tractors can be very dangerous, and employees should be instructed to use them in the safest way possible.
Guardrails are a system used to keep livestock, people and vehicles from going into hazardous areas. OSHA lists specific standards for guardrails use in agriculture. First, if a guardrail is present on the farm, any hazardous component within 15 horizontal inches of the rail shall be completely enclosed. Second, the guardrail height should be approximately 42 inches off the floor, platform, or other working surface on which it is mounted. In power plants and power development rooms where access is limited to authorized personnel, guard railings may be used in place of guards or guarding by locations. For example, some farmers have decided to use guardrails on their farm to serve as a fence. Some farmers believe guardrails offer the strongest, most durable, most cost-effective fencing solution for livestock. Ultimately, the main point of having guardrails is to ensure safety for unmonitored areas.
Bathroom and Drinking Facilities
Employers must provide bathrooms and drinking facilities for their farm employees (or as the regulation puts it, hand-washing facilities for hand-labor operators). Specifically, employers must provide, at no cost to the employees: 1) cool drinking water in readily accessible places in either single-cup dispensers or water fountains, 2) at least one toilet and hand washing facility per 20 employees, 3) regular maintenance of the bathroom and drinking facilities, and 4) encouragement for employees to take consistent water and bathroom breaks, especially for hot days on the farm. For more information on whether your hand-labor operations are up to standard, check out this previous blog post.
The end goal for each standard outlined above is to make the farm a safer place for employees. When in doubt of an operation on your farm, ask yourself whether your operation is safe. For more information or details, check out the OSHA Part 1928: Occupational Safety and Health Standards for Agriculture.