MOUNT VERNON — A proposal from the U.S. Department of Labor which would have forced restrictions on youth under the age of 16 as hired farm workers was withdrawn by committee decision on April 26. The proposal was being backed by the Child Labor Coalition and other groups.
“We’re devastated. We worked very hard to get these implemented. We thought these were commonsense protections which would have saved lives,” said Reid Maki, coordinator, Child Labor Coalition.
“The HOs (hazardous occupation guidelines) hadn’t been updated for 41 years. This was an attempt to bring up the level of protection closer to other industries,” said Maki. The Department of Labor took recommendations from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and formed a proposal based on numerous HO guidelines.
“The Child Labor Coalition estimates that 50 to 100 lives of child workers would have been saved over the next decade had the proposed rules been implemented,” said Maki. He provided statistics of 100 children being killed on farms each year; and that for agricultural workers age 15 to 17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces.
Confusion and concern spread once the provisions were proposed, mainly in the area of youth working on a family farm. Included in the proposal was a clause titled The Parental Exemption. This clause “Allows the child of a farmer to perform any task, even hazardous tasks, at any age on a farm owned or operated by the parent.” It also states that The Department of Labor does not have the authority to change the Parental Exemption through regulations.
Stressing his opposition to the proposed provisions along with 153 members of Congress was Ohio Congressman Bob Gibbs.
“As a farmer and former Ohio Farm Bureau President, it was clear to me that the people pushing this rule had never spent time in rural America. The proposed ‘Youth Ag Rule’ would have done irreparable harm to Ohio’s No. 1 industry and shows the administration’s fundamental misunderstanding of what a family farm is and core values that make rural America strong,” said Gibbs. “I am pleased that the Department of Labor came to its senses and realized this rule would undermine the ability of farmers and ranchers to hire young people and educate the next generation of ag producers.”
“We had 10,000 comments once these provisions were proposed,” said Joshua Lamont, Department of Labor spokesperson. “People were concerned, and so we took this off the table. The reason we went into this process in the first place was that children in agriculture were seeing lots of incidents of injury, even death.”