(Photo credit: Mark Renwick Thompson)
WASHINGTON — The idea that children could not assist on the family farm if the U.S. Department of Labor had its way had been a thorn in the side of many farm families since October 2011.
However, the U.S. Department of Labor has changed directions and has withdrawn a proposed rule dealing with children who work in agricultural vocations.
The rule, as designed, could have restricted what children can do on a farm and, in some instances, prevented them from doing some farm chores.
If the rule had been passed, it would have required all tractors operated by 14- and 15-year-old student-learners be equipped with proper rollover protection structures and seatbelts and that the student-learners use the seat belts.
It would have also expanded the current prohibitions against working with animals.
The rule would have also prohibited the use of most electronic devices, including communication devices, while operating power-driven machinery, including automobiles, tractors, farm implements and woodworking machines.
Youth would have been banned from working in tobacco production, as well.
The U.S. Department of Labor announced April 27 that it was withdrawing the proposed rule immediately and instead would work with farm groups to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and to promote safer agricultural working practices.
The decision came after the department received thousands of comments about the rule and what it would do to the family farm.
“The decision to withdraw this rule — including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption’ — was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms. To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration,” according to a statement by the department of labor.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., was an outspoken critic of the rule.
“I am pleased the administration has listened to reason and has withdrawn a highly criticized proposed rule that would have fundamentally altered the rural way of life in America for generations to come,” Roberts said.
The American Farm Bureau and the Ohio Farm Bureau claimed the decision was a victory for grassroots activism.
“The cooperative efforts by members of the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Association of Agricultural Educators played a significant role in convincing the U.S. Department of Labor that its proposed rules were ill-conceived and unnecessary,” the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation said in a prepared statement.
“Our members told their personal stories about the importance of providing young people with constructive experiences that teach responsibility, the value of hard work and the significance of continuing the family farm tradition.”
Meanwhile, the American Farm Bureau is pledging that it will work to help educate families about the importance of farm safety, and said it plans to work with the departments of agriculture and labor to develop a program to promote safer agricultural working practices.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president also called the rule reversal a victory.
“Rules and regulations, including those related to America’s youth working on farms and ranches, need to ensure safe working conditions. But the original proposal simply went too far,” association president J.D. Alexander said.
While the National Farmers Union did support portions of the rule, they are pleased that the department of labor will instead focus on preventing farm accidents.
“Education is a positive approach to this issue and we are committed to working with the DOL and USDA to develop educational programs to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices,” according to a statement from the NFU.