Ag Policy Blog

What Farmers Need to Know About OSHA's Proposed Extreme-Heat Standards

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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H-2A workers labor in sugar cane fields in Louisiana. The proposed OSHA heat rules would set new requirements for employers regarding rest breaks, water and shaded areas, which would increase depending on the heat index. (DTN file photo by Jim Patrico)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The nation's first federal safety for excessive heat would lead to more safety inspections on more than 105,000 farms and related agribusinesses, affecting nearly 1.14 million farm and agricultural processing workers.

In agriculture, the biggest impact would fall on meatpackers, dairy processors and fruit and vegetable farmers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed a new rule on Tuesday meant to deal with heat-related illnesses and deaths. The Biden administration cited the proposed rule would protect more than 35 million workers who primarily work outdoors, but the rule also includes standards for indoor work.

Under the rule, farmers and other businesses would have to develop a heat injury and illness prevention plant (HIIPP) and monitor heat conditions for workers. Even indoor work sites would have to identify areas that have potentially hazardous heat exposure. The rule has different heat-index triggers at 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 90 degrees F.

At 90 degrees F, employers would be required to set mandatory rest breaks every two hours. Training would also be required for supervisors and employees about heat risks.

OSHA cites there are an average of 40 heat-related deaths per year, and that number is likely underreported.

The proposed rule has a 120-day comment period after it is published in the Federal Register. That effectively sets a final rule toward the end of the year if there is no extension to the comment period.

With the U.S. Supreme Court's push to peel back regulations in the Loper Bright v. Raimondo ruling, the OSHA rule also "will likely be vulnerable" to being blocked by the courts, the Washington Post reported Friday.

The proposal also would potentially be pulled if Donald Trump wins the presidency again and sticks with his promises to roll back federal regulations developed in the Biden administration.

If the rule were to survive those hurdles, it would go into effect in 2026.

For agriculture, forestry and fishing, the proposed rule affects roughly 105,455 businesses, involving nearly 1.14 million employees.

"Some industries, such as agriculture, would be expected to have relatively large impacts under the proposed standard, due to the prevalence of outdoor work," OSHA detailed in an analysis of industry costs and impacts.

Right now, five states have some laws on the books protecting workers from excessive heat: California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington, OSHA cites on its website.

The rule would not apply to farms with 10 or fewer workers due to Congressional budget policy riders. OSHA noted, "Due to a Congressional budget rider, OSHA is not able to expend funds on enforcement activities for small farms." Generally, those OSHA riders prevent the agency from enforcing standards on farms with 10 or fewer employees.

Looking at compliance costs, OSHA cited the costs would not exceed 1% of the revenue when all cost offsets -- current practices to address heat hazards and productivity gains outside of rest breaks -- are considered.

Pointing to financial impacts, OSHA cited a Florida program, the Fair Food Program, which had heat stress protections for workers that added only 1 cent per pound of tomatoes.

While OSHA cannot regulate some of these smaller operations, the agency also cited USDA guidance and recommendations for providing shade and shelter for livestock under extreme heat conditions.

OSHA also noted some data limitations when it comes to information about heat exposure at livestock operations.

The agency added that it "welcomes public comment on what the likely practical effects of the proposed standard would be in these various industries."

In a long list of industry charts pointing to protected costs, OSHA cited:

-- Grain and oilseed farming: The rule would affect 19,259 farms with an annual cost of $22.6 million, or average annual costs of $1,172 per farm.

-- Cattle ranching operations: Another 24,349 operations would be affected with an annual cost of $41.9 million, or $1,724 per cattle operation.

-- Vegetable and melon farming: The farms with the most costs per operation, or 2,635 farms with total annual costs of $13.8 million, or $5,242 in costs per farm. Another 3,362 greenhouse nurseries would be affected with average annual costs around $5,186 per operation.

-- Grain and oilseed milling: There would also be 369 grain and oilseed milling companies affected. The compliance costs for the industry would be about $2.3 million, but that comes down to $6,192 per employee.

The National Grain and Feed Association stated in a member alert the proposed rule would "place an undue regulatory burden on grain-handling facilities in indirect (employee time) and direct costs (equipment) and additional paperwork requirements." NGFA stated the group opposes "a one-size-fits-all standard that lacks the necessary flexibility for employers to determine and implement appropriate controls to protect their employees."

-- Dairy processors: 801 companies affected with $5.2 million per year in compliance costs, or $6,640 per establishment.

Packing plants, or "animal slaughtering and processing: Affects 1,742 companies that would have nearly $28.3 million in annual compliance costs or $16,233 per business.

OSHA: Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings:…

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