MANHATTAN, Kan. – Recent review of a more than 40-year-old labor law pertaining to youth working in agriculture generated discussion about farm families who work together to produce the nation’s food as well as a large share of the global food supply.

The review focused on a 1969 U.S. Department of Labor declaration titled “Hazardous Occupations Order in Agriculture” (HOOA), and cites agricultural tasks that can be hazardous for youth younger than age 16, said Kerri Ebert, who oversees agricultural safety and health issues for K-State Research and Extension.

While equipment is a key concern, the Hazardous Occupations Order also prohibits 14- and 15-year-olds from:

* Handling animal sires or sows and cows with newborns within a pen or corral;

* Working more than 20 feet above the ground;

* Working with Category I and II agricultural chemicals, and

* Handling and using explosives and anhydrous ammonia.

The regulation does not apply to youth of any age who work for their parents or guardians (with or without compensation), Ebert said.

The HOOA is intended to protect youth, and not to divide families who work together as food producers, said Ebert, who explained that the recent review and discussion led to the conclusion that the 1969 declaration should stand.

The declaration does provide a procedure through which youth ages 14 and 15 who complete a 10-hour National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program and pass a test to earn the certification are eligible to operate a tractor greater than 20 PTO horsepower, and connect or disconnect an implement or any of its parts to or from such a tractor. 

Completion of a 20-hour training program is necessary before assuming additional responsibilities with agricultural equipment (using powered equipment is an example) or doing field work.

Safety is a shared concern, said Ebert, who noted there are many opportunities for youth to learn about agriculture and food production in non-hazardous assignments.

As an example, Jim Adams, a K-State Research and Extension 4-H specialist, noted that 4-H programs typically provide opportunities for youth to learn about agriculture while planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables, raising and caring for poultry, raising and working with animals on the farm, and participating in fairs and livestock shows.

In Kansas, Adams reported that in the past 10 years, 72 of Kansas’ 105 counties reported farm safety and agriculture training for 1,714 youth, with extension agents and volunteers leading the sessions. So far this year, 149 Kansas youth have participated in Extension Hazardous Occupations Training, according to Ebert.

While most who participate are high school age youth with an eye on employment in agriculture, Adams said Kansas 4-H stresses safety in all 4-H projects, and, also, offers agriculture-safety day camps for youth as early as the fourth and fifth grade

Ebert and other K-State Research and Extension staff recently developed an informational Youth Livestock Safety Series with how-tos, video demonstrations, and a quiz about handling beef, dairy, goats, horses, sheep and swine available at:

Ebert also maintains the Kansas AgrAbility Project: