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Ending Agricultural Exceptionalism: Strengthening Worker Protection in Agriculture Through Regulation, Enforcement, Training, and Improved Worksite Health and Safety

Policy Date: 11/1/2011
Policy Number: 201110

Related Policies
APHA Policy Statement 96-06: The Precautionary Principle and Chemical Exposure Standards for the Workplace; 1996.[1]

APHA Policy Statement 2005-4: Occupational Health and Safety Protections for Immigrant Workers; 2005.[2]

APHA Policy Statement 2006-5: Addressing Potential Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety Risks of Nanotechnology; 2006.[3]

APHA policy statement 2005-06: Reducing occupational exposure to benzene in workers and their offspring; 2006.[4]

APHA Policy Statement 20077: Calling on the US Congress to Restructure the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976; 2007.[5]

APHA Policy Statement 20108: Requiring Clinical Diagnostic Tools and Biomonitoring of Exposures to Pesticides; 2010.[6]


The American Public Health Association (APHA) firmly believes that the occupational health and safety of workers is a public health priority, and it has a long history of supporting measures to protect workers and improve occupational health and safety. APHA also has established prior policy in the area of protection of vulnerable workers. This policy adds to the existing APHA policies and affirms the need to improve worker protection in agriculture by eliminating regulatory exclusions. This would include the development of a comprehensive program to improve regulations, enforcement, training, and worksite consultations to improve health and safety practices.

Traditionally a family-run industry, agriculture has increasingly become a business that employs millions of workers. An estimated 3 million to 4.5 million people earn their living from agriculture. There are between 1 million and 2.5 million hired laborers, in addition to 2.05 million self-employed farmers and their unpaid family members.[7,8] The hired agricultural workers are largely non–English-speaking immigrants and are often unauthorized to work in the United States.[9,10] The combined workforce is an essential component of the modern production of food, fuel, and fiber in the United States, yet it suffers some of the highest rates of injury in any industry and is afforded substantially fewer protections than workers in other industries.

In the United States, farming and ranching have among the highest rates of work-related death of any industry. In 2009, the fatality rate for farming and ranching was 38.5 per 100|000, while the overall industry fatality rate was 3.3 per 100|000. Only fishers, loggers, aircraft pilots, and engineers suffer higher fatality rates.[11] In general, less is known about nonfatal injuries and illnesses. What data do exist suggest high rates of nonfatal injuries. For larger agricultural firms on which the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has data, rates for nonfatal injuries and illnesses in agriculture are among the highest of any industry.[12]

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (Pub L 91-596, 84 Stat 1590), which established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), states that its purpose is to “assure so far as possible every working man and women in this nation a safe and healthy workplace.” However, not all working men and women are treated equally under the act. Agriculture is specifically excluded from a number of standards, and there is a long history of what is referred to as “agricultural exceptionalism.”[13–16] In 1987, nearly 17 years after its formation, OSHA promulgated regulations regarding field sanitation for agricultural workers, but only after advocates sued the agency.[14] Currently, there are only 7 general standards that apply to agriculture[17]: those addressing temporary labor camps,[18] storage and handling of anhydrous ammonia,[19] logging operations,[20] slow-moving vehicles,[21] hazard communications,[22] cadmium,[23] and retention of Department of Transportation (DOT) markings, placards, and labels.[24] Additionally, there are 6 standards that apply solely to agriculture.[25] These include standards for roll-over protective structures (ROPS) for tractors,[26] protective frames and enclosures for wheel-type tractors,[27,28] guards or shields for moving and stationary farm equipment,[29] field sanitation,[30] and cadmium.[31] Markedly absent are standards that apply to other industries such as those dealing with ladders,[32,33] working surfaces,[34] personal protective equipment,[35] confined spaces,[36] noise,[37] ventilation,[38] and certain chemicals.[39]

Standards regarding worker protection from pesticide exposure are overseen by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA Worker Protection Standard involves pesticide safety training, notification of pesticide applications, use of personal protective equipment, restricted entry intervals after pesticide application, decontamination supplies, and emergency medical assistance.[40] It is notably weaker than similar regulatory standards for occupations other than agriculture, and is poorly enforced.[41–44]
In addition to the limited regulations in agriculture, appropriated federal funding specifically prohibits OSHA from using its funds to perform inspections and enforce health and safety regulations where an agricultural employer has fewer than 11 workers unless temporary worker housing is present on the property.
With a few exceptions, OSHA cannot require such operations to participate in injury reporting.[45,46]

Beyond the development of workplace standards, the Occupational Safety and Health Act charges the secretary of health and human services to act through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to conduct research into occupational hazards and methods for their reduction and the development of “education programs to provide an adequate supply of qualified personnel to carry out the purposes of this Act.” The act also states that the secretary of labor shall “provide for the establishment and supervision of programs for the education and training of employers and employees in the recognition, avoidance, and prevention of unsafe or unhealthful working conditions in employments covered by this Act.” These portions of OSHA’s mandate were not prohibited by either the exclusionary language in the Occupational Safety and Health Act addressing agriculture or the exclusionary language in the funding rider addressing agriculture. Nevertheless, while OSHA has invested millions of dollars in the training of health and safety professionals in other industries, it has failed to live up to its obligation to do so for the agricultural industry.

Recommendations

APHA urges the following actions:

1. Congress should direct funding to OSHA to allow the enforcement and inspection of all agricultural operations, including those with fewer than 11 workers, and to require such operations to participate in injury reporting.

2. OSHA should remove agricultural exclusions specific to existing standards. OSHA should include agricultural workers in existing, relevant regulations that protect workers in other occupations from hazards, as well as in the standards currently being developed regarding fall protection and injury and illness prevention.

3. OSHA should adopt policies to enhance monitoring of state plans for compliance with specific agricultural health and safety benchmarks (e.g., the inclusion of specific reporting and auditing criteria regarding states’ enforcement of field sanitation and temporary labor camp standards).

4. OSHA should convene an agricultural advisory committee as it has for construction, the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health, and general industry, the National Advisory Committee on Safety and Health.

5. The Department of Labor’s OSHA and Wage and Hour Division and NIOSH should direct funding to the National Academy of Sciences to review and make recommendations about the existing statues and the unmet need for agricultural safety standards. Training programs and consultation capabilities for agriculture should be enhanced.

6. The Department of Labor (i.e., OSHA and Wage and Hour Division) and NIOSH should undertake the development of a comprehensive collaborative program aimed at providing protection for the agricultural workforce.

7. OSHA and EPA should improve cooperative efforts to reduce the occupational risks associated with pesticide used in agriculture. APHA recommends that OSHA and EPA develop a memorandum of understanding with regard to EPA’s Worker Protection Standard, particularly as to the enforcement of that standard.

8. Funding to NIOSH by Congress should be increased to support academic centers in the development of training and research programs for safety and health professionals dedicated to agriculture.



References
1. American Public Health Association. APHA Policy Statement 96-06: The Precautionary Principle and Chemical Exposure Standards for the Workplace. 1996. Available at: www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=124. Accessed February 18, 2011.

2. American Public Health Association. APHA Policy Statement 2005-4: Occupational Health and Safety Protections for Immigrant Workers. 2005. Available at: http://www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=1318. Accessed February 15, 2011.
3. American Public Health Association. APHA Policy Statement 2006-5: Addressing Potential Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety Risks of Nanotechnology. Available at: http://www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=1329. Accessed December 22, 2011.
4. American Public Health Association. APHA Policy Statement 2005-06: Reducing occupational exposure to benzene in workers and their offspring. Available at: http://www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=1322. Accessed December 22, 2011.

5. American Public Health Association. APHA Policy Statement 20077: Calling on the US Congress to Restructure the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. 2007. Available at: http://www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=1350. Accessed February 15, 2011.

6. American Public Health Association. APHA Policy Statement 20108: Requiring Clinical Diagnostic Tools and Biomonitoring of Exposures to Pesticides. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association; 2010. Available at: http://www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=1400. Accessed February 15, 2011.

7. Kandel W. Profile of Hired Farmworkers: A 2008 Update. Washington, DC: Economic Research Service, US Dept of Agriculture; 2008. Economic Research Report No. 60.

8. Martin P. Immigration Reform: Implications for Agriculture. Agricultural and Resource Economics Update. Davis: University of California, Giannini Foundation; 2006.

9. Hoerster KD, Mayer JA, Gabbard S, et al. Impact of individual-, environmental-, and policy-level factors on health care utilization among US farmworkers. Am J Public Health. 2011;101(4):685–692.

10. Carroll D, Samardick RM, Bernard S, Gabbard, S, Hernandez T. Findings From the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 2001–2002: A Demographic and Employment Profile of United States Farm Workers. Washington, DC: US Dept of Labor, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Policy, and Office of Programmatic Policy; 2005. Research Report No. 9.

11. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Table 1: incidence rates of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses by case type and ownership, selected industries, 2009. Available at: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/osh.t01.htm. Accessed February 15, 2011.

12. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Census of fatal occupational injuries (preliminary data), 2009. Available at: http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/cfoi_rates_2009hb.pdf. Accessed February 15, 2011.

13. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1928. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10954. Accessed February 15, 2011.

14. Schell G. Farmworker exceptionalism under the law: How the legal system contributes to farmworker poverty and powerlessness. In: CD Thompson, Jr. and MF Wiggins, eds. The Human Cost of Food. Austin: University of Texas Press; 2002: 139-166.

15. Liebman AK, Augustave W. Agricultural health and safety: incorporating the worker perspective. J Agromed. 2010;15(3):192–199.

16. Luna GT. An infinite distance? Agricultural exceptionalism and agricultural labor. UPA J Labor Employ Law. 1998;1(2):487–510.

17. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1928.21 (2010). Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10956. Accessed February 15, 2011.

18. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.142. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9791. Accessed February 15, 2011.

19. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.111(a) and (b). Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9757. Accessed February 15, 2011.

20. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.266. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9862. Accessed February 15, 2011.

21. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.145. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9794. Accessed February 15, 2011.

22. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.1200. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10099. Accessed February 15, 2011.

23. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.1027. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10035. Accessed February 15, 2011.

24. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.1201. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10105. Accessed February 15, 2011.

25. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1928. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owasrch.search_form?p_doc_type=STANDARDS&p_toc_level=1&p_keyvalue=1928. Accessed February 15, 2011.

26. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1928.51. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10957. Accessed February 15, 2011.

27. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1928.52. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=13076. Accessed February 15, 2011.

28. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1928.53. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=13077. Accessed February 15, 2011.

29. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1928.57. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10958. Accessed February 15, 2011.

30. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1928.110. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10959. Accessed February 15, 2011.

31. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1928.1027. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10960. Accessed February 15, 2011.

32. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.25. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9717. Accessed February 15, 2011.

33. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.26. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9718. Accessed February 15, 2011.

34. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.30(a). Available at:
http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9722. Accessed February 15, 2011.

35. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910 Subpart I. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10118. Accessed February 15, 2011.

36. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.146. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9797. Accessed February 15, 2011.

37. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.95. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9735. Accessed February 15, 2011.

38. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910.94 Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9734. Accessed February 15, 2011.

39. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 29 CFR §1910 Subpart Z. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10147. Accessed February 15, 2011.

40. Worker Protection Standard. 40 CFR §170. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/safety/workers/PART170.htm. Accessed February 18, 2001.

41. Arcury TA, Quandt SA, Austin CK, et al. Implementation of EPA’s Worker Protection Standard training for agricultural laborers: an evaluation using North Carolina data. Public Health Rep. 1999;114(5):459–468.

42. US General Accounting Office. Pesticides: Improvements Needed to Ensure the Safety of Farmworkers and Their Children. Washington, DC: US General Accounting Office; 2000. Publication GAO/RCED-00-40. Available at: http://www.gao.gov/archive/2000/rc00040.pdf. Accessed March 31, 2010.

43. Shipp EM, Cooper SP, Burau KD, Bolin JN. Pesticide safety training and access to field sanitation among migrant farmworker mothers from Starr County, Texas. J Agric Saf Health. 2005;11(1):51–60.

44. Keifer M, Gasperini F, Robson M. Pesticides and other chemicals: minimizing worker exposures. J Agromed. 2010;15(3):264–74

45. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Occupational Safety and Health Standards for Agriculture. Applicability of Standards in 29 CFR §1910.21. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=10956. Accessed June 9, 2011.

46. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Enforcement Exemptions and Limitations under the Appropriations. 1997. Available at: thttp://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=1518&p_table=DIRECTIVES. Accessed June 9, 2011.