Parents of children who work on the family farm or are in agriculture education programs should thoroughly review proposed changes to child labor laws so they fully understand how the new rules could affect them, a Purdue farm safety specialist advises.
"Because the proposed rule changes are 51 pages long, I don't know that many people understand exactly what's being presented," Bill Field stated. "The changes not only hold the potential for positive but also significant negative effects to youth less than 16 years old who seek employment or are currently employed in agriculture."
While the Agricultural Hazardous Occupations Order was written in an effort to protect children from dangerous situations, it could prevent many young people from working on family farms or participating in agriculture-related educational programs.
The U.S. Department of Labor on Feb. 1 temporarily shelved the legislation after complaints that it would erode the tradition of children working on their family-owned farm. Although it agreed to reinstate a "parental exemption" that would allow parents to assign on-farm duties to their children, Field said many other proposed rule changes could further restrict young people from working in agriculture.
Under the proposed changes, the "parental exemption" itself would not apply to incorporated family farms, Field noted.
"Many small family farms are incorporated because of the tax advantages," he said. "But when a farm is incorporated, parents are considered a corporate entity and they would not be covered by the parental exemption."
Field said that due to negative feedback from producer groups, the U.S. Department of Labor has appeared to back off of this provision as it relates to incorporated farms. However, he said there has yet to be a published revision.
Educational programs such 4-H and the FFA's Supervised Agricultural Experience program, in which some students work on a farm or in some other agricultural business, could also be affected by the proposed changes, Field said.
While Field doesn't believe the rules are ready to be passed in their current form, he said it's time to update farm youth labor legislation. Current rules have not been updated since the 1960s.
"Even though there are significant concerns with many of the proposed rule changes, there is a need to review and revise the current rules to reflect changes in agricultural production practices and technology since the original rules were adopted more than 45 years ago," Field said.
The public comment period has passed, but those in favor of and opposed to the new legislation still have time to make their voices heard. Field encouraged those in agriculture to read about what's being proposed and contact legislators with their thoughts.