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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Labor/Employees > OSHA, ERTK—They Aren't Just Found in Alphabet Soup

OSHA, ERTK—They Aren't Just Found in Alphabet Soup

Chuck Schwartau
Extension Educator
April 12, 2011

As kids many of us enjoyed alphabet soup for lunch. Today, when we see a lot of letters that look a bit like alphabet soup, most tend to cringe rather than salivate.

"OSHA" is a pretty well recognized set of letters representing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA is charged with protecting the health and welfare of workers from a wide range of hazards. Farms are generally subject to the same rules as every other employer. What farmers should note, however, is that by rule, employers with less than ten (10) employees are technically 'under the radar' of OSHA so are unlikely to be inspected. What can change that situation for a farm is an injury to an employee that may trigger an OSHA investigation. That can happen regardless of the business size.

If OSHA audits your farm, there are several things they may ask to see. Among key items will be your Employee Right to Know (ERTK) program. So—what is it and how do you comply? An ERTK is a plan for training your employees about the hazards that may be encountered on your farm, the potential consequences of the hazards and how to deal with them on the farm. An ERTK don't have to be costly to develop and implement, but it does need someone who pays attention to the details and makes sure the process is followed on the farm.

Following are several key points:

These are only the basics of an ERTK program. Specifics and guides for complying with the rules can be found in "An Employer's Guide to Developing an Employee Right-To-Know Program". This guide is available from OSHA in an on-line format from sites such as http://www.dli.mn.gov/OSHA/PDF/ertk_gi.pdf. This is on the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry website, but other states and the federal OSHA website should have the same guide available.

One other thing to remember is the training needs to be understandable by all your employees, so on many farms this will mean two offerings - one in English and one in Spanish. There may be extra cost to secure a Spanish-speaking trainer, but not conducting and documenting the training may also result in a significant fine for non-compliance. Taking the positive step will probably be much less costly.

Finally, take time for a safety inspection on your farm. Involve your employees as well as your own time. There are increasing reports of OSHA inspections on dairy farms in the Midwest, so it may only be a matter of time before your farm is on the inspection list of one or more alphabet soup agencies.

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