Labor department drops proposed rules restricting child farm labor

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A proposed rule restricting children who work on family farms has been withdrawn by the U.S. Department of Labor after thousands of comments were received opposing it.

The department withdrew the rule, put forth last year, Thursday saying that it would not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.

The rule aimed to increase protections for children working in agriculture and referenced several statistics from farm accident studies. The justification included information that agriculture has the second-highest fatality rate among young workers, age 15 to 24, at 21.3 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, compared to 3.6 across all industries, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. The proposed rule also cited concerns with the exposure of young workers to

pesticides.

The measure would have barred children younger than 16 years old from jobs like operating power equipment, driving four wheelers or tractors, branding and breeding farm animals and working on ladders at heights over six feet unless the child's parent is the sole owner of the farming operation.

Some educators said the proposed rule also put the hands-on component of high school agriculture programs at risk.

"The DOL made the right decision in allowing veteran farmers and agriculturalists to volunteer as caretakers in the task of educating our children about farm safety by working with them side-by-side, instead of processing them through government training, or worse, denying them access to hands-on safety education altogether," Laura Nothdurft, agriculture instructor at Jackson High School, said in an email.

Nothdurft herself was involved in 4-H and FFA projects she says were supervised by adults who were concerned for her safety. It was these experiences that led her to choose a career as an agriculture educator. She even made a down payment on a house with a cattle herd that grew out of projects with these agricultural education programs.

"If the DOL proposed rule had stood, it would have devastated our nation's Agricultural Education Programs; but, worse, it would have stolen the rights of students to learn productivity, problem solving, community, and safety awareness next to committed, caring, wise adults," she said.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Sen. Roy Blunt and Gov. Jay Nixon issued statements Friday supporting the department's decision to withdraw the proposed rule. Emerson and Blunt had sent letters to the department urging the rule making effort be abandoned.

"We don't need much proof that this Administration doesn't understand rural America, but this proposal was clearly out of step with the reality of growing up on a farm or ranch in Missouri and many other parts of the country," Emerson said in her statement.

Blunt is a co-sponsor of the "Preserving America's Family Farm" Act, a bipartisan bill, calling on the department to withdraw the regulations.

The department's decision was criticized by the Human Rights Watch organization, saying the rule shielded hired child farmworkers from the most dangerous tasks.

Human Rights Watch in a news release Friday called agriculture the most dangerous work open to children in the United States. In 2010, the latest figures available, 16 children younger than 16 were fatally injured at work in the U.S.; 12 of them worked on farms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

315 S. Missouri Street, Jackson, MO

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