Proposed regulations to change child labor laws have raised much debate in the past few weeks, including concerns regarding 4-H participation and the impact on future generations of agriculture producers.  Earlier this month dozens of agriculture groups submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) in response to the proposed changes, which they say are overreaching.

According to the groups, the proposed changes demonstrate that the DOL lacks a full understanding modern farm practices and production.

If the regulations are passed, family farms across the country could be impacted. There has not been a significant change in child labor laws regarding farm work in the last 40 years.

In an interview with RadioIowa, DOL spokesman Mark Hancock said the regulations would prohibit youth under 16 from operating power equipment on the farm, such as tractors.

“The one that gets the most attention are tractors,” Hancock said in the interview. “There’s a good reason for that. Tractors have all sorts of risks to those who are working on or around or driving. We’ve included a provision that addresses handling the pesticides.”

Regulations also include a ban on youth using equipment with moving parts and working at heights above six feet.

According to Hancock, the risks are just too great to ignore.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that from 1995 to 2002, 113 youth died annually from farm-related injuries. The CDC also reported that in 2009 3,400 youth were injured while completing work on farms.

“We have had several very serious, in some cases, fatal incidents involving young people working in and around an elevator,” he said. “It includes engulfment while stomping down the grain.”

Ag groups understand that agriculture producers are also interested in keep youth safe.

“Farmers and ranchers are more interested than anyone else in assuring the safety of farming operations,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in a news release. “We have no desire at all to have young teenagers working in jobs that are inappropriate or entail too much risk.”

While the regulations would not impact children working on farms owned by their parents, it would impact those children working on other farms, including operations owned by neighbors, grandparents and other relatives.

“What we’re not doing is in any way affecting the parental exemption that’s existed in the law since its very inception,” Hancock said. “What the parental exemption says is if you own a farm, then you have complete freedom to work your kids as much or little as you choose without any interference from the Department of Labor or any other federal agency on their health and safety.”

The proposed rules would also put an age limit on livestock handling but only for those who are employed in agriculture. Children showing livestock in 4-H fairs would not be impacted.

“That’s important because I’ve heard it contended that this would preclude kids from showing their livestock in 4-H fairs and that sort of thing,” Hancock said. “In those instances, there’s no employment relationship so these regulations would in no way apply to kids showing their hog at the county fair or a 4-H competition.”

Source: RadioIowa, The Associated Press, NPPC, NFU, AFBF, CDC