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Farm-fatality legislation moves forward in Michigan

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One Michigan farmer’s death taught us a lesson we wish we would never have to learn the hard way. Keith Eisenmann died in November 2019 when he fell from a barn roof that he was repairing ahead of a storm. The roof was unable to hold his weight and collapsed under him. Zell Eisenmann found his brother’s body. However, the major lesson came afterward when his wife, Barb, had to pay a $12,000 fine from Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Administration for failing to report the accident. 

AGDAILY explained the incident and offered perspective in a 2020 column — the piece explained the family’s heartbreak and the additional anguished caused when MIOSHA got involved. Specifically, the Eisenmanns’ company was required to report Keith’s death within a certain amount of time but didn’t, thus resulting in the fine — $5,000 for failing to report the fatality and an additionally $7,000 for failing to identify safety measures taken.

“If the goal is to reduce workplace accidents, then MIOHSA has to have jurisdiction over all employers and employees. Safety has to always be a concern for everyone. And why would more dangerous occupations — such as farming — get a pass?,” wrote Amanda Zaluckyj in her AGDAILY column. “But the decision rankles. We don’t usually think of agriculture as a profession; we consider it a lifestyle. This was Keith’s farm. His barn. His responsibility. He knew the risks, but he also had a job to do. Why does any government agency have the ability to come in and make a bad situation worse?”

Michigan lawmakers are using this case to prevent this from happening to any farm families in the future and the legislation is one step closer to passing.

The Michigan House approved House Bill 4031 last week, aiming to amend the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act to decrease penalties for failing to report injuries or fatalities to owners or family members of family farms.

Employers have 24 hours to report injuries, and just 8 hours to report a workplace fatality.

State Rep. Bronna Kahle of Adrian introduced the bill following the death of Eisenmann.

“It is a cruel and insensitive expectation that a family should think of calling a bureaucratic agency to report the death of a loved one within hours of such a heartbreaking and life-altering event,” Kahle said in a statement.

MIOSHA reports that falls are a leading cause of workplace deaths in Michigan. Under Kahle’s legislation, fines similar to the Eisenmanns’ would be reduced by 95 percent.

HB 4031 would protect a family farm when most of the business is owned by the operator or family members, or a farm organized as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or family corporation.

“We continue to work with the Legislature to make additional enhancements to HB 4031, given remaining concerns about the applicability of these rules to owner/operators at all,” said Michigan Farm Bureau Associate Legislative Counsel Ben Tirrell. “However, Michigan Farm Bureau is generally supportive of HB 4031’s current concept; it’s certainly an improvement.”

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