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.