Farming is a dangerous way to make a living.
Livestock can be unpredictable and injure caregivers; farmers use heavy machinery that can tip and crush them; silos that store grain can become death traps that suffocate workers.
Each year, according to the National Child Labor Coalition, 30 children are killed working on farms. Twelve of those are hired help.
The Washington, D.C.-based coalition of unions, child-welfare organizations and human rights groups noted in testimony presented to support tighter regulations, "In 2006, an estimated 5,800 children and adolescents were injured while performing farm work. Every summer young farm workers are run over or lose limbs to tractors and machinery. Heat stress and pesticides pose grave dangers."
A proposed revision in U.S. Department of Labor rules would greatly restrict what children under 16 would be allowed to do on a farm. Farmers are not welcoming the changes.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, a coalition of 70 farming organizations in Washington, D.C., has argued the Labor Department is overreaching its authority and a prohibition on power-driven machines could be read to include electric screwdrivers.
Under the proposal, children under 16 no longer would be allowed to drive most tractors or farm equipment or handle mature livestock such as un-castrated bulls, sows with suckling pigs or cows with a newborn calf present that still has an umbilical cord. Workers under 16 also would be forbidden to work in grain silos, feed lots or livestock auctions handling pesticides or work on a ladder, tower, roof, scaffold or machine more than 6 feet above the ground.
A farmer's children would be exempt from the rules.
The comment period on the rules ended Dec. 1 and farmers are waiting to see which of the proposed rules are implemented.
A proposed regulation that raised the hackles of farmer Tim Trax in Finleyville, Minn., prohibits young people from riding on farm equipment over public roads without a seat and seat belt.
What that means is that when the crew of young people at Trax Farms moves from one field to another, the workers can't pile onto a farm wagon. Instead they have to be moved in a vehicle equipped with seats and seat belts.
Trax said the workers travel at most about half a mile on the public road to get to a field.
"Sounds like the feds are fixing things that don't need to be fixed again," he said, adding that he has never heard of an accident involving a trailer of workers and a car.
Reid Maki, coordinator of the National Child Labor Coalition, said the proposed regulations bring farms in line with other industries in protecting children. "The department has a responsibility to protect these kids," he said.
A Labor Department news release recently reported the department had settled a case against a company that ran a grain bin in Illinois. Two workers, 14 and 19 years old, were killed.
The two were "walking down the corn," a procedure that makes the corn flow more easily through the machinery. Both teen workers were trapped in corn more than 30 feet deep and suffocated. A third worker was seriously injured.
The company will pay $200,000 in fines.
The new regulations, Maki said, "would eliminate certain activities we know are dangerous."
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