One proposed change would prevent children from working with animals in timber operations, manure pits, storage bins, and pesticide handling. Other elements of the proposal would prohibit children under 16 from operating nearly all power-driven vehicles (a similar rule has been in effect for non-agricultural labor for over 50 years). Perhaps the least controversial proposal would prohibit children from using electronic communication devices while operating power driven vehicles, a prohibition that several states already enacted. The proposal with perhaps the widest impact on commercial agriculture would prohibit children under 18 from working in “country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.” A side-by-side fact sheet of the current and proposed rules is available here.
The Wage and Hour Division believes that these new regulations will increase the safety of children employed in agricultural jobs. However, children, as well as adults, who live and work in rural communities may find them life changing, and not in a positive way. In some farming communities, the prohibited places of employment are the largest employers, and a minor who wants to work in agriculture when he or she is an adult, would obviously benefit from having work experience in those places. On the other hand, the Department of Labor proposed these rules because the “fatality rate for young agricultural workers is four times greater than that of their peers employed in nonagricultural work places” and “injuries suffered by young farm workers tend to be more severe than those suffered by nonagricultural workers.” Moreover, current agricultural child labor rules are more than forty years old and have never been updated.
For an interesting 30-minute audio podcast discussing the impacts of the proposed rule, click here.