By Tony Jarboe, NFU communications coordinator

Last week NFU submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Labor regarding proposed revisions for the child labor regulations. While child safety is a top priority for NFU, we must be careful not to tighten regulations to the point that it discourages young workers from helping out on the family farm or learning about agriculture. NFU has long held that family farming is more than a job, it’s a legacy. Farmers must be able to pass that legacy down to their children and close relatives.

The proposed revisions do keep in place the parental exemption, which allows children under the age of 16 more flexibility to work on a farm owned and operated by their parents, but NFU would like the Department of Labor to clarify this exemption and whether, for example, this exemption extends to close relatives.

Many Farmers Union states also weighed in, urging similar caution. There is a fine line between being safe and discouraging our youth from being able to learn on the job. The average age of farmers is climbing, and it is critical to get new blood into the industry. Farmers and ranchers must be able to let their children and close relatives work with them so they can learn how to do the job safely and effectively. No one is more concerned about safety than one’s parents and close relatives, so they would be the best teachers for young agriculture enthusiasts. By allowing younger people to work side by side with trained close relatives, they will learn safety procedures and be better prepared for a life in agriculture.

The Department of Labor had good intentions with the release of these rules, but there could very well be unintended consequences. The department added two new Nonagricultural Hazardous Occupations Orders (HO), one of which prohibited youth under the age of 18 from working in farm-product raw materials wholesale trade industries, e.g., grain elevators, livestock auction barns, etc. Certainly in some instances, such as working in an enclosed grain bin or working with adult male animals that are intact, these industries can be dangerous, particularly for younger individuals. However, restricting all youth under 18 from any work in these industries, even nonhazardous tasks, would unnecessarily eliminate a source of employment for young people interested in working for agribusinesses.

Agriculture can be a dangerous industry, and safety should be a top priority. However, we must ensure that safety regulations do not become so burdensome that they deter young workers from entering the field. As long as parents and close relatives are nearby and exercise some good old-fashioned common sense, younger agriculture workers will be safe and can continue to learn about the industry they love.

Click here to read NFU’s full comments on the issue.

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