Dept. of Labor Changing Youth Labor Laws

DC Dialogue

Current parental exemption could limit teen workers on farms other than solely parents.

Published on: November 11, 2011

THE Hazardous Occupations Orders for Agricultural Employment hasn't been changed for the past 40 years. An update of federal labor regulations governing youth employment could mean significant changes in the types of work young people can do on the farm.

In September, the Labor Department notified farmers that they would have 60 days to express any concerns over new guidelines nearly 100-pages long that limit how teens can work in agricultural settings. The original comment closing period was to end Nov. 1, but was then extended another 30 days until Dec. 1, 2011.

Dee Jepsen, assistant professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, explained the hazardous occupations order for agriculture prohibits youth under the age of 16 from working in and around certain types of environments, outside two basic exemptions.

One of the two exemptions historically allowed for in the order included allowing children to work on farms owned and operated by their parents. When the parental exemption was originally written it was broad and perhaps reflective of the typical farm structure at that time. The kinds of family farms, and legal structure of farms, have drastically changed in the past 50 years; the parental exemption is not - and should not be implied to be a "family farm" exemption, Jepsen warned.

“This is an area that could use additional clarification, and possible changes to reflect the types of farms teens are working. This is not currently proposed to be changed. But maybe this is an area that further discussion is needed so that children working for uncles, grandparents, and other family members understand they are not in a ‘family farm’ exemption status,” she said.

Jepsen explained that if two brothers farm together and have formed a limited liability company, a child no longer meets the parent exemption because the farm has a different structure. The individual could also be taking directives from another family partner, which doesn’t qualify under the exemption.
Significant changes

The second traditional exemption was for children under the age of 16 who completed a prescribed farm safety education and training program.

The major changes in the proposed rule pertain to tractor-safety certification programs. Students aged 14 and 15 would take a safety course through Extension or their high school agricultural class involving 24 hours of coursework prior to an exam and skills test to learn about safety procedures. The proposed regulation would expand the program requirement to 90 hours of study prior to an examination, explained Jepsen.

In addition, the proposal is written such that the certification program would only be offered by secondary schools, essentially meaning high school agriculture programs, Jepsen noted.

"This would eliminate the safety courses provided by other groups like Farm Bureaus or Extension. Students would have to find a local ag education program to participate," she said. "The course, basically an entire semester of study, would also deal with more than tractor safety, and would include confined space dangers and other farm-related safety issues."

In addition, the proposed regulation changes some key definitions. For example, the current regulation only applies to youth operating tractors rated at 20 horsepower. Jepsen said the proposal would now include tractors of any horsepower, including lawn and garden tractors.

The definition of power equipment used in the proposed regulation also includes any powered equipment, including hay elevators. Jepsen said that likely means farmers would not be able to employ students under 16 to work around hay elevators or in the barn putting up hay if an elevator were used. “That is an entry level type of job for young people that they would not be able to do for hire,” she noted.

Jepsen also said there are significant changes when it comes to working with livestock. Under the current regulation, youth under the age of 16 are prohibited from working in a pen or stall with an intact male animal, or a sow or cow that was still nursing. That restriction is much tighter under the proposed rule change.

"They've expanded that to say that students can't work with any animal husbandry practice like breeding, branding, dehorning or treating sick animals," she said. "They aren't allowed to catch chickens in preparation for market, and they can't herd animals in confined spaces or on horseback or using ATVs or other motorized vehicles."

She noted that this provision of the proposal has generated numerous questions about the implications to programs like 4-H and FFA, as well as organized youth livestock exhibitions in general.

Jepsen said other proposed changes affect students working in tobacco production, in grain handling and merchandising facilities, and on ladders and other elevated structures, among other areas of potential concern for farmers and youth interested in working in agriculture.

Comments needed

Jepsen noted that although many regulations are outdated and may need to be updated, it is crucial for the agricultural industry as well as vocational ag educators to comment on the impact of the proposed changes.

Jake Cummins, executive vice president of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation said, "No one cares more about these children than their own parents do. Many young people interested in agriculture develop a great work ethic and thoroughly enjoy working on farms and ranches, at sale yards and feed yards. You learn by doing. It would be a real shame to have this rule deter the absolutely essential development of the very kids we’re counting on becoming our next generation of farmers and ranchers.”

The Department received requests to extend the period for filing public comments from members of Congress and various agricultural business organizations. The DOL said it “does not believe that extending the comment period will delay publication of the important final rule.”

To comment on the rule, visit www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=WHD-2011-0001-0001.  

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  1. Anonymous says:

    My name is Mrs Tonni Canaday and the comment below is mine. I will stand up in name as Alumni, and leader.We want answers.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Where are the studies and graphs and numbers to warrant this change. Where are the charts that show that youth raised in 4-H and FFA,Boy and Girl scouts, cause more damage to society than those without. Where are the studies that show they cause crime and have social adjustment problems that they are in jail and filling youth detainment facilities. The studies are there because that is not what this is about. Somewhere in here is an agenda we can't yet see. Are lobbyists pushing because these people end up responsible land owners and educated voters in great numbers. Is it because these people become the entrepreneurs and business owners. In the hundreds and thousands of people that have been thru these programs is it because they are taught to make a positive difference? I am a proud 4-H alumni. I served ten years in 4-H, showed pigs and sheep went to Washington DC for leadership and Chicago for Food Preservation. I learned to cook and sew and help my local community .I worked for my parents and neighbors in their fruit stand, picked and cut fruit, moved irrigation and picked walnuts I started and led my own 4-H group, become a city councilwoman and traveled the world started a small community service business for public safety. I worked for companies and served twenty years in Law Enforcement. I have a beautiful family and my children are taught to be responsible people and good students. There is no shop, or PE in most schools and these programs are what give students mentors and teach possibility. Without these programs what would be put in their place to serve youth in a more positive fashion ? Why are we fixing something that is not broke ?

  3. Anonymous says:

    This is an example of overregulation. My boys love to ride, brand, gather and work the cattle and equipment on their grandparent's farm/ranch. There are inherent risks and we accept those. I believe that we need regulations in place to protect the safety of youth and employees but this goes too far. Way too far. I see nothing wrong with a certification program for tractor safety but I don't see why that certification, if it presents a universal curriculum, can't be provided by groups like local Farm Bureaus or even certified private citizens. There is no common sense in this proposal and with out making serious changes, this could severely cripple the Ag industry and deny our children untold opportunities that they cannot get any other way.

  4. Anonymous says:

    This is a slap in the face... My kids were 4H & FFA and it helped with their business sense and self esteem. Kids that have a solid foundation such as taking care of animals are the ones who are solid upstanding, honest adults.. Not running amok and members of gangs and bored out of their minds with nothing to do. LEAVE THIS ALONE... YOU HAVE BETTER THINGS TO DO WITH OUR MONEY YOU ARE PAID!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am absolutely appalled at the majority of changes that someone/group is proposing how we raise our kids. I am 28 years old. From the time I was old enough to handle a shovel or pitchfork I have been working on the farm. I pitched manure, shoveled corn, ground feed, baled hay, drove tractor, walked beans, and did whatever my dad, grandpa, uncles, or nieghbors wanted me to. I drove pick up at a young age around the yard. My parents were smart enough to know when I could handle it and when I couldn't. THEY WERE WITH ME. Too many of todays' city folk do not spend enough time with their kids to know what they are and are not capable of doing. Some people/kids can handle big jobs at 10 or 11, and there are some grown men who still can't figure it out. I think all kids should spend two summers on a farm and learn where their food comes from and how it works. Then 15 years later when they are traveling across the US with their family they can tell their small kids what they did and what they know and how they will do the same thing someday. This rule/amendment promotes laziness. We have enough obseity in our community, we call it a crisis, but we want to make it worse? Sounds like we are trying to make new jobs for someone to figure out why it is happening. Well, I just told you, we do not need to spend 100 million dollars to figure that out. Growing up I never got paid for any work I did on our own farm. My parents would make sure I was clothed, fed, roof over my head, had gas in the car when I was older. If I wanted spending money I had to work for the neighbors until I was old enough to drive, then I worked at the grocery store in town after school and on weekends, and still came home and worked on the farm. Now I understand not everyone has a passion for it, but it would be an excellent experience for city kids to come work. I do not appreciate washington or anyone telling me how to raise my kids, especially when they are mature enough to handle a job. If these rule proposal people would actually look into the eye of a child when they are "promoted" to do a bigger job on the farm you see 236 years of self promotion and independence alive. This rule/proposal is similiar to washington telling us we shouldn't spank to disicpline children. Well, I am going to tell you a statistical fact, that you guys actually came up with. There are reasons why we have the problems with society. We shouldn't make it so easy to divorce, with two parents in the household the child is less likely to have a divorce themselves someday, and if they are disciplined they are 80% less likely to go to jail, yet washington wants to make laws against it????? I understand there is discipline (spanking) and abuse, but there are times when talking, sitting down, taking privilages don't work. When there is a swift spanking there is a commanding of respect. The only people left like this are our serviceman. The don't ask don't tell should remain. Some things people just don't need to know. The service men and woman are here to protect and serve. They are the reason why we live here and can do what we want. Why are we trying to regulate ourselves to death? We should say the Pledge of Alegiance in school, we should sing the national anthem, and we should worship the Lord. This is what our nation was founded on, this is why we have been so successful. Now we want to throw that away and do what we want, well, I got news for you, there are other countries that have done this, and they are the ones in the news that are looking for bailouts, have extremely high immorality rates in kids, teens, and the population as a whole. They are broke nations, barely holding together. Is this really what we want? My suggestion to these laws to make it simple would be this. Don't let kids go on the wheat run until they are over 18 years of age. Take a farm safety class on equipment. Take a farm safety class on animal husbandry. Work from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. unless on their p

  6. JacquiFatka says:

    In response to who was involved, unfortunately the rulemaking process is never very transparent. From my understanding it has been under development for several years, likely before the Obama administration came into office. That being said, we can hope that the many, many comments the agency is receiving from the industry can help give them a better idea about the impact a change in the rules could have. Another hopeful insight is that many Congressional members have taken notice of the rule and understand the importance of children being able to work on the farm. The rule comment period closes Dec. 1. It likely could be another couple of months or even longer before we know what a final rule could be. I will do my best to keep folks updated at my blog as new information becomes available. As a child who began driving the tractor alongside the my dad in the combine at harvest when I was in 4th grade – I too appreciate the benefits of teaching children the importance of the farm as well as safety. Keep the comments coming - and be sure to visit the rulemaking page link up above to send your comments directly to the Dept. of Labor.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Can you shed some light on who personally was involved in creating the new proposal on child labor laws. My cousin insists that this is an example of liberals in power.... which may or may not be true. I would like to know who wrote the proposal, not just that the Department of Labor proposes it. What are the actions toward such a proposal from a conservative side and a liberal side. I personally do not like it's implications as I live in a farming community and married into a family that has successfully taught our children to safely use equipment, care for animals and confidently enter the work force knowing that they were capable of solving problems and had the knowledge to ask questions and find answers when their jobs presented situations with which they were unfamiliar. Each of our kids were taught to drive a truck very early, as we cut wood for heat when they were young and we wanted them to be able to go get help if needed. It was for their safety that they began learning to use equipment. There was nothing more delightful than listening to their laughter when baling hay together. They respect machinery and firearms and their environment due to being allowed to be a part of it all.