NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Proposed Federal Rules Would Limit Kids' Work on Farms

January 30, 2012

After four years of silence on the issue, the Labor Department has released a swathe of new regulations governing child labor in the agriculture sector.  Citing injury and fatality reports from recent years, labor officials state that the new rules were proposed in order to protect youths from activities that have proven to be exceedingly dangerous, says USA Today.

  • Children under age 16 who are being paid will not be allowed to operate most power-driven equipment, including tractors and combines, with some exceptions for approved vehicles.
  • Those under age 18 will be prohibited from working at grain elevators, silos, feedlots and livestock auctions, and from transporting raw farm materials.
  • Youths under age 16 will be barred from cultivating, curing and harvesting tobacco to prevent exposure to green tobacco sickness.
  • Youths will not be allowed to use electronic devices while operating power-driven equipment.

These proposed regulations will not apply to children who are employed by their own parents.  Nonetheless, many agricultural workers point out that their children will be limited from working on neighbors' and relatives' plots because of the burdensome new regulations.

Labor officials have justified the regulations by pointing out that youth injuries and fatalities on farms are a frequent occurrence, and that the rules target those activities that are most dangerous.  According to the latest data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, more than 15,000 youths under the age of 20 were injured on farms in 2009, with most of these injuries stemming from the completion of farm chores.

However, this justification did not prevent the regulations from pulling a staggering 18,000 comments from the public after being published in the annual Federal Register.

Source: Judy Keen, "Proposed federal rules would limit kids' work on farms," USA Today, January 25, 2012.

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