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The legislation was sparked after a widow was forced to pay a $12,000 fine after her husband’s accidental death.

March 19, 2024

3 Min Read
State Representative. Jerry Neyer, R-Shepherd
BILL PASSES HOUSE: State Rep. Jerry Neyer, R-Shepherd, spoke at the Michigan Capitol on Feb. 29 about his bill to give leniency to grieving family farmers who may experience a workplace death of a family member. It passed the Michigan House and has been referred to the Senate committee on government operations. Courtesy of Jerry Neyer's office

The Michigan House of Representatives has approved legislation that would significantly reduce fines against family farms that don’t properly report a workplace death of an immediate family member.

Sponsored by Rep. Jerry Neyer, R-Shepherd, the bill passed with bipartisan support and has been backed by the Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) since it was introduced in October. HB 4011 is the freshman lawmaker’s first bill to make it through the Democrat-controlled House.

Under the legislation, family farms will still have to report workplace fatalities — but the fines for failing to properly do so within an eight-hour window would be reduced by 80%, if the family farm does not have any prior violations.

Neyer decided to work on the issue after a 2019 incident in which the widow of Blissfield Township farmer Keith Eisenmann was forced to pay a $12,000 fine after his accidental death.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to report any employee workplace death within eight hours.  

“The intent of the law was to protect employees, but MIOSHA has discretion, and in this case, the state clearly failed to recognize the unique circumstances. They went with a strict interpretation,” Neyer says.

“It wasn’t just an employee who died; it was an immediate family member. No one in that kind of situation is going to be thinking about filing paperwork with the state in the first eight hours. They’re going to be in shock. Anyone applying common sense can see that.”

Being a dairy farmer himself, Neyer took a particular interest in the situation because of his firsthand understanding of the issues involved. He served for more than 20 years on the Isabella County Farm Bureau and the United Dairy Industry of Michigan board before being elected to the Michigan Legislature in 2022.

“Farming is a hazardous occupation, and this was a tragic situation,” Neyer adds. “I saw it as an opportunity to correct a wrong.”

A similar bill was approved by the Legislature last term, but it was vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer because of a technical issue. Neyer’s bill addresses Whitmer’s objection by clarifying the definition of a family farm and makes it clear that the change would only apply to the loss of an immediate family member.

Neyer says he originally wanted to also extend the reporting deadline from eight hours to seven days, but he dropped that part due to concerns that making that change could conflict with federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules.

He plans to work with Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich., on getting the reporting time frame changed.

“This was a good first step,” Neyer says. “This will provide some leniency to grieving family members.”

MFB has supported creating a logical exemption from MIOSHA injury and fatality reporting penalties when those incidents involve owner-operators, MFB Legislative Counsel Ben Tirrell says.

“It’s encouraging to see the Legislature once again take up this important bill in a bipartisan way,” Tirrell says. “We truly appreciate all of Rep. Neyer’s efforts in continuing to champion this issue.”

Source: MFB

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