After a 10-year legal battle, the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has agreed to develop a field sanitation standard for agricultural workers. The regulation will require employers to provide migrant workers with access to drinking water, toilets and hand-washing facilities.
The Migrant Legal Action Program, which is funded by the Legal Services Corporation, first asked OSHA in 1972 to draft the standard to protect the nation's estimated 5 million migrant workers from a number of diseases and such health problems as heat stroke and dehydration. OSHA refused and later was sued by the migrant legal group. OSHA began work on a standard but discontinued the project in 1977 because it was not a "priority." That action led to a series of court rulings and a 1981 court opinion by U.S. District Judge June L. Green, who accused OSHA of "bad faith" and "irrational acts."
"OSHA's timetables belong in Alice in Wonderland's tales: each step forward brings us two steps backward," Green said. As part of a recent court settlement that she approved, OSHA has agreed to make "a good faith effort" to propose a regulation within 18 months, hold hearings within 23 months and complete the standard within 31 months.