'If we fall under the net of OSHA, folks, it might be game over'
By MATTHEW WEAVER
SPOKANE -- More and tighter safety regulations are in store for the agriculture industry in the coming years, a Northwest agribusiness leader says.
Farmers are exempt from many U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements, and the industry must protect those exemptions, Jim Fitzgerald, executive director of Far West Agribusiness Association, said.
"If we fall under the net of OSHA, folks, it might be game over," Fitzgerald. "I won't tell you we can't be in compliance, but it is extremely difficult to be in compliance on any given day, and there's more regulations proposed."
Fitzgerald said the number of on-the-job injuries and worker deaths in the U.S. has declined since the 1970s, but the number of citations has increased since the inception of OSHA.
In 2009, 68,000 citations were issued, and 110,000 citations were issued halfway through 2010, he said.
Roughly 10 new or revised OSHA laws are slated to go into effect in 2013, Fitzgerald said.
From 2009 to 2012, the average fine was $230,000, Fitzgerald said, with multimillion-dollar fines against British Petroleum and Exxon for oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska factoring into the average.
"It's going up significantly, and that has a direct correlation to the cost of goods and services both in and out of agriculture," Fitzgerald said.
States can put their own requirements into effect, which can be equal to or more restrictive than federal requirements, Fitzgerald said.
"It affects who we have to have on staff to do our regulatory work and it adds to our overhead," Fitzgerald said.
With state revenues down, Fitzgerald said more enforcement audits, penalties, fees, licensing and reporting requirements will continue.
"It's fair to say we're going to see more regulations, particularly in the area of environmental regulations," Fitzgerald said.
He cited crop protection products up for Environmental Protection Agency re-registration, including review of 2,4-D, one of the most widely used herbicides.
"More and more and more, there's tighter reviews on the products we need in agriculture," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald expects the federal deficit to translate into higher taxes. He recommends farmers consult with their accountants.
"It's going to be important for us to keep our eye on these regulations and how they affect our businesses," he said, recommending ag associations be proactive about the effect on farm operations.
If they don't, he said, the regulation trend will continue and at some point the market will move.
"It's a reality and we're doing ourselves a real disservice if we don't recognize it and start to do what we can to push back," he said.