LANSING - Farmers are being encouraged to submit public comments as soon as possible regarding the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) proposed revisions to child labor regulations.

Touted by DOL as a move "that will strengthen the safety requirements for young workers employed in agriculture and related fields," Craig Anderson, manager of the Michigan Farm Bureau Agricultural Labor and Safety Services Department, fears the action goes too far and would rob teenagers of local job opportunities that help to insill agriculture's strong work ethic.

"There are still some very vague areas in the proposals, but these, on the surface, appear to go way too far," he said. "These proposals would prohibit grandchildren from working on their grandparent's farm, would prevent farmers from instilling a solid work ethic in their children and would leave the farmers liable for fines and penalties just for giving their children chores that involve power equipment. For example, having your kids pick up sticks and branches while you're cutting firewood would be a banned practice."

The agricultural hazardous occupations orders under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) that bar young workers from certain tasks have not been updated since they were promulgated in 1970, the DOL said in a press release.

The department is proposing updates based on the enforcement experiences of its Wage and Hour Division, recommendations made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and a commitment to bring parity between the rules for young workers employed in agricultural jobs and the more stringent rules that apply to those employed in nonagricultural workplaces. The proposed regulations would not apply to children working on farms owned by their parents, the DOL said.

The proposal would strengthen current child labor regulations prohibiting agricultural work with animals and in pesticide handling, timber operations, manure pits and storage bins. The department also is proposing to create a new nonagricultural hazardous occupations order that would prevent children under 18 from being employed in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials. Prohibited places of employment would include grain elevators, stockyards and livestock auctions.Anderson said such rules could mean that children under age 18 would be prohibited from exhibiting and selling animals at county fairs, but it was unclear if the rules would go that far.

The proposal would prohibit farm workers under 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment. A similar prohibition has existed as part of the nonagricultural child labor provisions for more than 50 years. A limited exemption would permit some student learners to operate certain farm implements and tractors, when equipped with proper rollover protection structures and seat belts, under specified conditions.

The FLSA establishes a minimum age of 18 for hazardous work in nonagricultural employment and 16 in agricultural employment. Once agricultural workers reach age 16, they are no longer subject to the FLSA's child labor provisions. The FLSA also provides a complete exemption for youths employed on farms owned by their parents.

Even with that exemption, Anderson said, the DOL is barking up the wrong tree.

"With the homicide rate among teens at 20.7 per 100,000 (according to childtrendsdatabank.org), and the farm injury rate for all ages at about two per 100,000, I think this effort is misguided," he said.

The public is invited to provide comments on the proposal, which must be received by Nov. 1. A public hearing on the proposal will be scheduled following the comment period. For more information, go to the proposed rule website.