Reading through the April 27 U.S. Department of Labor press release announcing withdrawal of a proposal that would have excluded young farmworkers from tasks deemed by DOL as dangerous, I couldn’t help but think of the days I walked soybean fields as a youngster with my parents.
I hated those soybean fields, pulling weeds as a young boy, and chopping them with corn knives as a teenager. But, like so many farm kids, I learned more from those mundane, hot and humid days in the soybean fields, than I ever did sitting in a college classroom or farm seminar. There is value to farm work, and often, farm kids don’t value those lessons until they are adults.
Yet, the DOL ruling has another side that we may not care to consider. Among farm accidents and fatalities, farm children are the most prone. They are the group that is most tragic when it comes to disaster on the farm. Accidents involving farm kids, whether it is engulfment in a grain bin, tractor or machinery accident, or a livestock accident, are horrible and gut-wrenching. They are the kinds of accidents that no one wants to think about.
But we must think about them. Dying in a farm accident is not a rite of passage for children. It doesn’t teach them anything. And the burden of safety responsibility still falls on us as farmers and ranchers, to protect our children as they work our farms.
We need to keep those safety guards in place on machinery. Never place a child in a position on the farm that you would not be willing to take on yourself. Make sure the tasks you give farm kids are age-appropriate, and that they have the maturity to handle those tasks. The DOL ruling notwithstanding, potential harm still lurks everywhere on the farm as one of the most dangerous places to work.
Please be careful yourself in your work, but be even more diligent in caring for your own children, or other young people who may be employed around your place. That responsibility is square on our shoulders. We need to do the best we can, so our farm kids can live to enjoy and appreciate those work ethic lessons they learn in rural America.