Labor Department seeks to change child labor in agriculture

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is proposing revisions to child labor regulations in order to make work safer for children working in agriculture.

Agricultural work is considered one of the most dangerous occupations, according to a report by the National Center for Farmworker Health; the death rate is four times all other industries combined and 300 children die every year in agriculture work accidents.

Most of the realities of agricultural workers remain out of sight and out of mind (think about it: how many people do you know who pick fruit for a living?). But news of those dangers pops up periodically in Michigan, where agriculture is the state’s second-largest industry, generating some $1 billion annually, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

Some of the news of child labor in Michigan’s agricultural industry spread across the country. In 2009 ABC news aired a story about an investigation of child labor in Michigan’s blueberry farms, shocking viewers with stories of young people whose youth had been stolen by long, hot days spent working in dangerous fields.

Some news was closer to home. May of this year, news reports about a Standish teen — 18-year-old Tom Osier – who was killed in a grain silo accident, again started the dialogue about dangers to young agricultural workers.

The agricultural hazardous occupations orders under the Fair Labor Standards Act that bar young workers from certain tasks have not been updated since they were promulgated in 1970, according to the DOL.

The DOL stated in a press release that the proposed updates would bring parity between the rules for young workers employed in agricultural jobs and the more stringent rules that apply to those employed in non-agricultural workplaces. However, the proposed regulations would not apply to children working on farms owned by their parents.

The proposal would prohibit children from: working with farm animals, handling pesticide, timber operations, and working in manure pits and storage bins. It would prohibit farm workers under age 16 from participating in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco. And it would prohibit all young workers — agricultural and non-agricultural — from using electronics and communication devices while operating power-driven equipment. It would also prevent children under the age of 18 from being employed in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials. Prohibited places of employment would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.

Additionally, the proposal would prohibit farm workers under age 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment. A similar prohibition has existed as part of the non-agricultural 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 public is invited to provide comments between Sept. 2, 2011 and Nov. 1, 2011. Comments may be sent electronically here. They may be mailed to: Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, Room S-3502, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20210. Include the identification code: RIN 1235-AA06 in mailed or electronic comments. A public hearing on the proposal will be held following the comment period.

1 thought on “Labor Department seeks to change child labor in agriculture

  1. This is the most insane proposal I have ever read. Children who care for animals through 4H and FFA obtain invaluable knowledge, experience, life skills, work ethic, people skills, confidence, etc etc etc. You can not introduce agriculture to young adults and expect them to have the same passion for it as the child who grew up with it. Milking a goat, riding a horse, catching a sheep, planting a garden and harvesting that food is not “work”! It is a passion, a hobby, and a way of life.

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