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Safety First! Is State-Run OSHA Program Right for Montana?

Safety First! Is State-Run OSHA Program Right for Montana?
“That’s not OSHA approved.” It’s the brunt of many jokes and sarcastic comments regarding workplace safety, but what does Montana Farm Bureau policy say about OSHA? 
Not much as it turns out.
That may be something that Farm Bureau members want to take a closer look at during their policy development process this summer.  Efforts to create a state-based OSHA in Montana didn’t garner much traction during the 2017 legislative session but proponents are back and seem to be greasing the wheels for another try during the 2019 session.
The Labor & Management Advisory Council, appointed by Governor Bullock, is the driving force for exploring options of a state-run program for Montana.
Currently, the average Montana farmer is exempt from OSHA if they have less than ten employees.  However, this is not an exemption from the law; rather it’s an appropriation rider that prevents OSHA from spending any portion of their budget inspecting small farms.
What could it look like if Montana implemented a state-run OSHA?  MFBF’s John Youngberg created a list of pros (yes, there are a few) and cons to help me paint a better picture.

Pros

No portability of violations from other states.  Meaning, a violation in one state cannot follow you to another state. This would be a plus for large companies that operate in multiple states (grain elevators, railroads, trucking companies, etc.).  If a company had a violation in one state and then earned a second in Montana, they wouldn’t be fined as having a second violation in Montana.
Some state control in calculation of fines.  We all know how bureaucratic the rule-making process can be within government entities; however some control is certainly better than none!
Public and private employers receive the same fines. This could also be seen as a con since public entities are spending your tax dollars.
Allows for consultations on farms and ranches without fines.  If you wished to have a safety consultation done on your farm or ranch you could do so without fear of retribution under a state-run program.

Cons

A state program has to be at least equal to or more restrictive than a federal plan. We wouldn’t gain by having less restrictive worker safety laws.
It creates another bureau in the Department of Labor. Expanding government; not something we're generally keen on.
Cost.  The amount is still unknown but it’s safe to say it would be big money. Funding for a state program would almost surely be General Fund dollars, fees paid by employers in Montana or some combination of the two.
There would be no exemption for ag employers with under 10 employees.  This would mean that dust requirements, tag out-lock out requirements on grain bins etc. would apply to even small employers.
Independent Contractors would not be subject to OSHA which would further muddy liability issues in the event of an injury.

More to chew on

The Director of the Washington state OSHA program recently attended a Labor & Management Advisory Committee meeting to talk about their program. Federal OSHA rules say they will pay up to 50% of a state’s program funding.  That’s a nice gesture in theory, but according to Washington’s director their state pays closer to 80% of the program costs. 
There are 22 other states with state-run OSHA programs; many western states are included in that number. Depending on how a state-run program is structured, inspections of farms and ranches could become common place.
Farm Bureau believes that workplace safety is crucial. That’s why we participate in the Montana Ag Safety program and why the MFBF Health & Safety Committee is working to shed light on important issues within our industry.  It will always be a priority to offer the best resources and training available to help Montana farmers and ranchers stay safe on the job.  The biggest question is the vehicle for providing those resources; would a state-run OSHA program help keep Farm Bureau members and their employees safe?
Of course, we can’t say with certainty what outcome the Governor’s Advisory committee will reach, but given the push in 2017 and this continued effort it’s a pretty safe assumption a bill will be born of these discussions.  MFBF has been invited to the table to learn more about this process and share our point of view.  That said, we don’t have a clear policy position and if legislation comes as a result of these meetings we’ll definitely want it. 
So, Farm Bureau members, what say you?

Contact your Regional Manager or John Youngberg at 406-587-3153 or johny@mfbf.org for more information.



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