Labor Secretary William E. Brock today left it up to state governments to establish rules to provide toilets and drinking water for farm field workers or face federal intervention.
Brock warned that the federal government will issue a field sanitation standard if a state fails to act on its own within 18 months. At the same time, Brock said the federal government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration should not have primary responsibility for field sanitation.
“OSHA will meet its obligations and reduce the risks to farm workers due to unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the field,” he said. “Basic human decency dictates that farm workers be provided with sanitation facilities.
“However, I believe OSHA can best assure adequate protection for field workers in this particular case
by encouraging the states to address the problem,” Brock said. “If they fail to act, then OSHA will issue its own regulation.”
Administration officials estimate 13 states, including California, already have their own field sanitation standards.
Brock’s decision, his first major pronouncement in five months in office, rejects strong appeals from organized labor, churches and health groups. On the other side, the farm lobby has argued that a federal standard would be costly, unnecessary and would interfere with states’ rights to regulate agriculture and health.
Testimony at OSHA hearings described unusually high levels of parasitic disease, urinary infection, diarrhea, skin disease and other health problems in fields that lacked toilet facilities and clean water for workers.