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Is Your Hand-Labor Operation is Legal?

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

By Sarah Everhart

Person picking a squash (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

If you have a hand-labor operation, you need to make sure that certain facilities are provided for your workers, or you could be in violation of State labor regulations related to the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Standards Act (COMAR, et seq.). The requirements outlined in this post apply not only to the owner or operator of a farm, but also to a farm contractor who exercises substantial control over the production of a crop and/or a farm labor contractor who recruits and supervises employees engaged in hand-labor, collectively referred to below as “agricultural employer.”

Generally, agricultural employers must provide potable drinking water and toilet and hand washing stations for workers engaged in hand-labor operations in the field at no cost to the workers. The agricultural employer must provide a sufficient amount of reasonably cool drinking water dispensed in single use drinking cups or by fountains.

If an agricultural employer has 11 or more workers performing hand-labor operations in a field on any given day, 1 toilet and hand washing facility shall be provided for each group of 20 employees or a fraction of that amount. This ratio of facilities to workers may be increased to 1 for every 30 workers if the facilities are maintained and cleaned often. If workers perform field work for a period of 3 hours or less during the day, including transportation time to and from the field, then toilet and hand washing facilities are not required.

The toilet facilities must have self-closing doors which can be closed and locked from the inside, have sufficient toilet paper, and be adequately ventilated and screened. The toilet and hand washing facilities shall be located within ¼ mile of each worker’s place of work in the field. If the facilities can’t be located within the required distance due to terrain, the facilities shall be located at the point of closest vehicular access.

An agricultural employer must properly maintain and keep in sanitary condition the drinking water and toilet and hand washing facilities. For example, drinking water containers must be kept covered and refilled daily or more often as necessary. Toilet facilities must not create an unsanitary condition for workers. Agricultural employers must allow workers reasonable opportunities during the workday to use the drinking water and toilet and hand washing facilities.

The law requires that employers inform each worker of the importance of each of the following good hygiene practices:

(1) Use the water provided for drinking and hand washing;

(2) Use the toilet for elimination;

(3) Drink water frequently and especially on hot days;

(4) Urinate as frequently as necessary; and

(5) Wash hands:

(a) Both before and after using the toilet,

(b) Before eating and smoking.

A variance procedure, outlined in state law (Maryland Code, Labor & Employment Art §3-118-3-228), allows an agricultural employer to apply to the Commissioner of Labor and Industry for a temporary or permanent variance from the regulations outlined in this post. However, the variance procedure involves a public hearing which workers must be notified of and invited to participate in.

Violations of the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Standards Act can result in criminal penalties if the employer falsifies information or civil penalties for serious or repeat violations or at the discretion of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

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