Farmers encouraged to comment on DOL proposed rules

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Every day about 500 agricultural workers suffer lost-time injuries, and 25 of them result in permanent impairment, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service.

Agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries, with an increased risk of both fatal and non-fatal injuries. And it’s one of the most hazardous jobs for youth.

Last month the U. S. Department of Labor announced proposed rules that would help ensure the safety of youth on farms. But, the devil is in the details, as farm advocates claim the proposals are far too restrictive.

The DOL says its proposed rules would “strengthen the safety requirements for young workers employed in agriculture and related fields.” The revisions, the first since 1970, would impact the Fair Labor Standards Act that currently bars young workers from certain tasks, and are intended to bring restrictions on young agricultural workers more in line with those that already exist for young people working in other industries.

The DOL published the Proposed Rules on September 2, and the comment period ends November 1.

In a prepared statement, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said, “Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America. Ensuring their welfare is a priority of the department, and this proposal is another element of our comprehensive approach.”

Specifically, the new rules would prohibit farm workers under age 16 from participating in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco. And it would prohibit youth in both agricultural and non-agricultural employment from using electronic, including communication, devices while operating power-driven equipment.

There is also a new non-agricultural hazardous occupations order proposed that would prevent minors under 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, feedlots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.

The proposal also would prohibit farm workers under 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment. A limited exemption would allow some student learners to operate certain farm implements and tractors, when equipped with proper rollover protection and seat belts, under specified conditions.

At first glance the rules seem to be an effort to reduce youth accidents. But many in agriculture say the proposed rules are another example of over-reach by the federal government.

“Here’s what the government thinks is common sense,” says Craig Anderson, Agriculture Labor and Safety Services division manager at the Michigan Farm Bureau. “Eliminate work to protect workers. If you don’t work, you can’t be hurt on the job. Who can argue with that?”

According to Anderson, who was quoted in Michigan Farm News, after examining the DOL’s proposed rules he found a lot for farmers not to like.

“If you thought the new non-agriculture rules prohibiting virtually all employment of youth under 16 were overzealous, the details in this document are downright oppressive,” Anderson says. “The DOL assumes that youth under age 16 lack the ‘cognitive ability’ to herd animals on horseback, use battery-powered drills, put hay bales on a bale elevator or use any equipment except if powered by hand or foot.”

He believes the new rules would further hurt the structure of family farms in America.

"In agriculture it is common for farms to be operated by two, three or even five generations of family members," Anderson said. "The grandparents own the land, their children are buying into the farm and may have some land on their own, and the grandchildren are working to understand what it takes to be a farmer. If the parents and grandparents operate the farm, the grandchildren under 16 would be prohibited from working on the operation."

"Don't let the spin fool you," Anderson says. "They'll say there's nothing for farm families to worry about because there is an exemption for children working on their parents' farm. The DOL proposal says it will maintain the family exemption, but later limits the exemption for any business or multi-generation farm."

Of particular interest to livestock operations are the restrictions for animal handling. The document would seem to eliminate working with 4-H and FFA animals, or proper care and well-being of animals. DOL says youth would be “prohibited from engaging, or assisting in…treating sick or injured animals.”

Youth also would not be allowed, under the proposal, to cut and separate cattle from a herd if riding a horse. "No youth development data exists to suggest youth younger than 16 years have the cognitive ability to handle this responsibility," the proposal suggests.

Such restrictions and inconsistencies are why Anderson and other Michigan Farm Bureau officials are pleading with farmers to submit comments to the DOL before the Nov. 1 comment period expires. Submit comments here.

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Lewis Wiley    
Manderson Wy  |  October, 05, 2011 at 09:10 AM

This is stupid. How do they expect kids to learn about the work ethic. In Wyoming farm kids who learn how to work are the first to be hired on a lot of non-farm jobs because employers realize that they have the work ethic and they alreadly know how to work. Retrictive rules are a big reason the econamy is in bad shape

Donald Stehle    
Texas  |  October, 05, 2011 at 09:40 AM

This is typical government action. Put out a restrictive rule that prevents industry from doing their jobs by stating what can not be done, instead of working with industry to develop processes that make operations safer. I see this all the time in my non-farm job where safety personnel travel around looking for violators to punish, rather than looking for places where they can assist with making jobs safer. The safety personnel are evaluated by how many citations they write, not by how many operations they help make safer! Yes, agriculture needs to be safe, but this rule is another example of government not kowing how to accomplish the objective.

Another Intrusion    
Nebraska  |  October, 05, 2011 at 10:05 AM

Here we go again. Another case of Federal Government intrusion into state, local and maybe even family issues. The knee jerk reaction is to say they are going to far when the real question should be why are they involved in the first place?

Ron Odell, ARM    
Amarillo, TX  |  October, 05, 2011 at 10:31 AM

The government doesn't have a clue, so being the elitist’s that they are they tell us how to do something that they have no comprehension of. Ag is dangerous to those who have not grown up with it and know nothing about the machinery or livestock, but they are trying to regulate the family farm instead of the commercial operations where most of the accidents occur. They are taking away the chance for family farms to succeed and the means for young people in rural areas to learn how to work safely. Safety is one of my biggest responsibilities and we do everything we can to train our workers how to work safely; I grew up working on farms and ranches and it helped me to develop a respect for safety and a work ethic; the government should not take that away from our young people

CM Ofstie    
Amity, OR  |  October, 05, 2011 at 11:10 AM

I grew up on a Cattle Ranch in Montana with 4 generations of my family. I drove a pickup truck from age 6, drove tractors in the hay field in high school, rode horseback at the roundups from age 5. I raised 13 4H steers, 3 heifers and a colt. I helped fix fence, check the cattle, put out salt and check the water. I fought the range fires. I was never seriously hurt, nor have any of the other 30 members of our clan. It was a wonderful way to grow up. I learned so many life skills from my Cowboy Pa and my Farmer Brother. Yes Farming and Ranching are dangerous occupations. So is City living. City kids are run over in the streets, shot by Drive By Shootings, afraid to go outside and play. Country people are very careful with their kids. We learned by working with our elders. City folks in the Government need some education. Ristrictive Rules Written by Ignorant People are a waste of our Tax Money!!

john ballard    
Armstrong co.-Texas  |  October, 05, 2011 at 11:56 AM

another extension of no commen sense in our federal gov't. I started farming at the age of twelve. I have operated tractors, rode a lot of good horses, have had cattle and sheep. My kids have all done the same over the years without a single accident. However they have aquired a lot of commen sense and have aquired good work ethics to carry with them throughout their adult lives. Maybe some of these regulators should try working in agriculture so they could develop good work ethics and become responsible citizen for the rest of their lives.

L Allen    
Dallam Co Texas  |  October, 05, 2011 at 01:19 PM

What the govt is trying to do is put so many restrictions upon farmers and ranchers that they will finally give up and sell out to some huge corporate farming/ranching concern. Who will then tend the business with workers from who knows where with no regard for their neighbors or the land. The govt wants control and they know that it's hard to control hard working farmers and ranchers who raise their families on these operations who eventually turn into responsible leaders of the country. Do not under any circumstance, let the govt gain control of how you run your business or your family!!

Concerned Educator    
Georgia  |  October, 05, 2011 at 04:12 PM

(Cont'd) ....not only do these experiences provide these students with these opporunities, but it pushes the issue of safety to the front of the line and demands the students to pay special attention in developing proper safety measures first. By removing the opportunity, we are only creating a generation that will be more dependant and less efficient in their own abilities. DOL most definately should reconsider restrictions within their proposal

Agriculturalist/ Educator  |  October, 05, 2011 at 04:49 PM

It seems to me that the DOL is trying to make it sound like we are forcing these kids to work on our farms and around livestock. This is not the case at all, these kids want to work on our farms in order to learn. If we do not educate our future generation then who will be left here to farm when we are all gone? I will agree that farming of any sort has its dangers but that is life. I cannot see how society can tell a kid that they cannot work on a farm because it is dangerous but allow them to participate in certain sports where they are encouraged to hit and tackle one another. Kids decide during their teenage years what they are going to do for the rest of their life and if the DOL takes away the option of working on a farm then they will find other things to do with their life; then who will be left here to feed America? Accidents are inevitible, that is life. We all were not made to sit behind a desk all day!

andy harrison    
valdosta, ga  |  October, 05, 2011 at 07:09 PM

About as stupid as it gets. Our government is going to drive our food source to come from a foreign source where far worse child issues prevail and food safety cannot be controlled. For years young people have workedo the farm and learned may life long skills which include a work ethic, not waiting on the government to send them a check for doing nothing but procreating. If they are so worried aobut children working on farms, why don't they look at youth sports? Maybe children should not play football, soccer or other sports until they are 18 years old.

North Dakota  |  October, 05, 2011 at 08:15 PM

A bunch of people who do not know how to work telling a bunch of people who know how to work how to work....

R. Stephens    
Georgia  |  October, 06, 2011 at 07:10 AM

DOT has no idea, just another government bureaucrat making policy/regulations they know nothing about. Another form of dictatorship. The United States has gone to pot. I guess their thinking is for our children to stay home, watch tv, play video games.

Kansas  |  October, 06, 2011 at 08:57 AM

I think everyone complaining needs to download and read the attachment themselves. This law is primarily for kids not living on a family farm and working on that family farm. For years the Extension Agencies have been providing HOSTA training for kids. Even though my son grew up on a farm I had him take it. Kids growing up around this hazards with a parent have a much better understanding of them. I would have to say my son can handle cattle better than some adults I've been around. However, my nephew who grew up on town does not have that experience and expect he would just get hurt. All the comments I see on here are from people talking about their experiences growing up on the family farm and those are some great life skills which this law from what I can see and sitting in on the HOSTA training would not effect. Here is a copy directly from the attachment. The Department interprets ‘‘operated by’’ the parent or person standing in the place of the parent to mean that he or she exerts active and direct control over the operation of the farm or ranch by making day-to-day decisions affecting basic income, work assignments, hiring and firing of employees, and exercising direct supervision of the farm or ranch work. A ranch manager, therefore, who meets these criteria could employ his or her own children under 16 years of age on the ranch he or she operates without regard to the agricultural hazardous occupations orders, even if the ranch is not owned by the parent or a person standing in the place of the parent, provided the work is outside school hours.

Kansas  |  October, 06, 2011 at 09:13 AM

People need to learn to read before commenting- from the proposed law-"The proposed agricultural revisions would impact only hired farm workers and in no way compromise the statutory child labor parental exemption involving children working on farms owned or operated by their parents." It also requires specific training of these children before putting them in a tractor or a tractor trailer, or other dangerous equipment. These regulations prevent children who have not been raised on a farm from being taken advantage of by farmers looking for cheap labor. I've been in livestock for 30 years in 3 different states, and have seen it everywhere I go. Honestly, the comments here are ridiculous.

Hugh Lanier    
Georgia  |  October, 06, 2011 at 09:42 AM

I agree this is stupid, but what do we expect from Washington. These rules would destroy a entire way of life. When I was growing up not only did I work on our farm, but I also helped other farmers. I drove truck, tractors, herded cows, hauled corn to the bins, etc.. I knew what I was doing was dangerous, but I was also taught respect for the danger. Those lesson and many more have helped me all through life. When I went to college I got a job quickly making twice what my friend made because of my back ground.

Sylvester, GA  |  October, 06, 2011 at 10:05 AM

Make sure that you click on the "SUBMIT Comments here" at the bottom of the document which will take you to the DOL feedback website. As an educator, I urge the DOL to confer with professional educators and educator groups before enacting these regulations. Collectively, these proposed regulations threaten to dismantle the infrastructure of our food and fiber production system in America. While the industry of agriculture does pose some dangers, these regulations threaten the greater good of our nation more than the occupational safety issues in agricultural practices.

WI  |  October, 06, 2011 at 11:06 AM

I do not think the government is out to get anyone on these proposed rules. First of all, why is everyone offended that the government is looking to protect its citizens? This really only limits kids that are legally employed, which obviously is few if they are under the age of 16. No one should be driving machinery or even vehicles if they are not legally allowed to drive on the road, that seems to be common sense. If you are working on your family farm that is your family's issue, if they trust you to operate machinery at such a young age, so be it but do not expect any sort of compensation for negligence. I doubt that hardly anyone would be truly affected by these suggested laws because so many workers are not on a payroll, rather just handed cash for their work. Work permits are required for a reason and these laws are here to protect people. There are many, many people above the age of 16 that would love to do the jobs that the kids are doing. With the unemployment rate so high it really should not be an issue that young people should stick to the less dangerous jobs for a while and enjoy their childhood. Don't worry, a work ethic can be developed in other ways rather than forcing a child to do dangerous work at a young age.

Wisconsin  |  October, 06, 2011 at 08:39 PM

It is apparent that the only way kids can gain 'work ethic' is by being raised on a farm, or at least doing work on a farm. As an adult who grew up in a large family, many of which were farmers, I know that this is far from the truth. It is really sad that people make this new proposal out to be something that it really isn't. If this truly is, ‘one of the most hazardous industries, with an increased risk of both fatal and non-fatal injuries,’ why would kids be doing this in the first place without some sort of certification? We certainly wouldn’t expect someone under the age of 16 to be driving a car, would we? I don’t by any means think that this is a spiteful proposal, but rather our government looking out for the children of our county.

Wisconsin  |  October, 06, 2011 at 08:40 PM

It is apparent that the only way kids can gain 'work ethic' is by being raised on a farm, or at least doing work on a farm. As an adult who grew up in a large family, many of which were farmers, I know that this is far from the truth. It is really sad that people make this new proposal out to be something that it really isn't. If this truly is, ‘one of the most hazardous industries, with an increased risk of both fatal and non-fatal injuries,’ why would kids be doing this in the first place without some sort of certification? We certainly wouldn’t expect someone under the age of 16 to be driving a car, would we? I don’t by any means think that this is a spiteful proposal, but rather our government looking out for the children of our county.

Maxine Jones    
Midland, SD  |  October, 07, 2011 at 11:46 AM

Children on farms/rancher often are taught to drive pickup trucks at a very early age. Most do become very competent at an early age, far younger than driving licence age, even in SD where it is 14. Some do not. Some kids will NEVER work safely, but most do. Most people do cherish their children, so teach safety and watch to assure it. Same for all walks of life. Bureaucrats do often engage in making their missions creep to grow their budgets! The reason for so much angst over this is such rules are announced daily and the load of 'rules' is burdensome, to say the least, for farmers. I don't know where the person claiming abuse of child labor is common on farms lives, but I'm betting it isn't in SD. I've never seen, nor even heard of it in modern times, tho it did happen back in the '30's. Giving kids a job they can see is important and working them pretty hard just may be better for them than letting them loaf on city streets. We see the results of that in the news every day!

Indiana  |  October, 07, 2011 at 03:34 PM

My kids have gotten some scrapes and bruises while helping us on the farm and riding horses. But to really get hurt, as in had to go to the ER and make follow-up visits to the family doctory, our son had to play football. He's re-thinking the football thing for next year, thinks it takes too much time away from the farm. Why aren't kids' sports more tightly regulated?.

Madeleine Tector    
Illinois  |  October, 07, 2011 at 06:14 PM

The Gov. does have a clue, they just don'ty want pribvately ownded farms, they are buying farmland right now that is still underwater, they want it all, they want you out of business, complaining means nothing, they want your farms, period. One mor efarm ot give ot Monsanto or to sell later on down the road.The Chinese have been buying lot of property here lately, maybe your farms will be some of it.

Todd Surdez    
Missouri  |  October, 11, 2011 at 07:46 AM

I helped on my grandfathers farm in South Dakota every summer from the time I turned eight years old. It was the most educational experience I have ever gone through. I do not work in the agriculture business but I have the utmost respect for those that do. One thing I do know for sure, a 12 year old that lives and works on a ranch or farm has ten times the cognitive abilities than anyone we have ever sent to Washington. I assume that no one in the developement of these regulations ever spent any real time working on a farm or ranch but rather grew up in ignorance!

Rose Mary Trask    
Wasta, SD  |  October, 12, 2011 at 05:34 PM

I am a 58 year old mother of 12 ranch raised children. I grew up in town and took drivers ed. I would much rather have any of my kids driving, when the weather is bad, than me. They have grown up learning driving in all kinds of adverse weather and road conditions. They are much safer to travel with than I would be. Just the same with machinery and horse back riding. Would anyone think that someone could likely become a virtuoso piano player or an Olympic skiier if they weren't allowed to start trying till they were 16? Americans, let's STOP shooting ourselves in the foot with all these stifling laws! Sincerely, Rose Mary Trask

may, id  |  October, 12, 2011 at 11:46 PM

I'm 13 and i work on a farm. I LOVE IT!!!!! any way, i buy parts for anything i want to build. this STUPID purposal would make me wait until 16 or 18. i can't even wait for school each day. humf. if this passes i am going to be TICKED OFF!!!!

Baker City OR  |  October, 14, 2011 at 05:08 PM

It seems to me that the federal government has forgotten what we fought the War of Independence for. To live our lives as is our right. Which includes working on a farm at 16 is we so wish. I am a FFA member and will not give up my chosen way of life for anything. Please submit comments to the comment site before the deadline. working on a farm or ranch is the best way to learn how to work and persevere, even through hard times, in the world. We cannot let the gov't take that away from us!

Morgan Courage    
Austin, Texas  |  March, 03, 2012 at 08:41 PM

Really...why is the government in what seems to be a dazed insistence on socialism proposing more laws that we break down the last American produced, family owned business? So children under the ages of 16 and 18 are not capable and too stupid to work? I understand the antiquated breaking of sweat shops at the turn of the 20th century for child abuse and unpaid labor. But in the 21st century, America can still produce rather than turn into a consumer only economy where the youth are not well educated and apparently now, unable to secure a trade or craft that would continue our heritage and keep Americans working. DOL, you don't need to justify your jobs by finding new areas to write laws that harm the economy and will ultimately destroy the future of American family owned business.

Chris Walker    
Michigan  |  March, 04, 2012 at 12:49 PM

I do not think it is up to one person or a group of people to decide the fate and guidelines for a "way of life" that has been around since the beginning of time. You can drive in a car and be at risk of getting hurt. Should the government say that no one can ride in a car anymore and we must march up and down the streets instead? This is a joke and there should be no discussion after all the entire farming community is against it. If you are for this then either you are a city person or you just are plain out crazy.

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