Farmers should be prepared for an inspection from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at any time.
“With respect to OSHA for farm businesses, this is a fairly new experience,” Chuck Palmer, partner in the law firm, Michael Best & Freidrich LLP, said. “The agricultural exemption for farms really kept farms and agricultural businesses out from the prying eyes of OSHA for many years, and really until about 2011 (when a fatal accident occurred at a Wisconsin dairy). The growth in the size of agricultural businesses has really brought the focus on them.”
The concentrated attention on agriculture has reached a point where employers in the ag industry need to start looking at the models other regulated businesses have developed to respond to these agency inspections, Palmer said in citing an OSHA program that is randomly inspecting dairies in the state of New York.
So, how does a business handle an inspection? First by knowing its rights provided by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment prohibits an unreasonable search and seizure without probable cause and without a warrant. The amendment applies to every person, including businesses, Leah Ziemba, partner in the law firm, Michael Best & Freidrich LLP, said.
And all searches must be “carefully limited in time, place and scope,” she said.
While a warrant can be required in most cases, asking a government agency to obtain a warrant might not be the best tactic for a business to take, depending on the circumstances, Ziemba said.
A search conducted with the permission of the property owner does not require a warrant but it still must be reasonable, and the consenting party can revoke consent at any time and the search must stop, she said.
Consent can be both when somebody arrives at your doorstop, or it can be given in advance in the form of a permit term, Ziemba said. In addition to providing legal counsel to agricultural clients across the country, she and her husband are part of their family’s dairy operation in Wisconsin.
Read part one of this series.