Oregon state regulators have fined five hemp businesses a total of $825,000 dollars for housing farmworkers in a dilapidated building in Josephine County.
About 25 farmworkers lived and worked inside what was essentially a barn with flimsy walls made of corrugated metal. The workers trimmed and packed hemp in the building all day, then slept in tents inside the building at night.
“It is an extreme case just given the willful nature of the violations and the absolute bad condition of the building itself,” says Aaron Corvin of the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Corvin says labor housing violations occur in all types of agriculture businesses. But they’re starting to show up more in the hemp industry, a burgeoning market in southern Oregon.
“It may be that you get situations like this in the hemp industry because it’s still emerging and people are entering the market,” Corvin said. “I'm speculating here, but you might get some playing loose and fast with the rules to get into this market.”
State inspections found the building’s walls had several gaps in them, allowing rodents and insects inside. Exposed electrical wires could have shocked workers. And there was only one exit in the 24,000 square foot building.
The employers also didn’t have a license to house farmworkers.
Corvin says Oregon OSHA reported potential labor violations from this case to the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries.