Farm advocacy groups like the Farm Bureau Federation are meeting with U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Labor officials to discuss ways to improve farm safety, particularly concerning underage workers.
The talks are part of the fallout of the Labor Department’s failed effort to reform agricultural child labor laws. Earlier this year, Labor officials proposed a series of reforms to child labor laws that could have drastically changed the workforce on family farms across the country. The proposed regulations would have prevented children under 18 from working with powered farm equipment, working with certain livestock, and working in dangerous farm environments like silos. While the regulations would have offered exemptions for children working on a farm owned or operated by a parent or guardian, many farmers worried that these regulations could seriously hurt the farm sector.
After months of grassroots mobilization by groups like the Farm Bureau and bipartisan political pressure, the Labor Department dropped the proposed reform.
Despite this failure, the USDA and Labor Department are still hoping to improve workplace safety on farms in order to better protect child workers. The Farm Bureau’s director of congressional relations agrees that workplace safety is a major concern, but stated earlier this week that one size fits all regulations are bad for the industry.
Some safety organizations still disagree. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, over 15,000 children were injured on farms nationwide in 2010. The National Consumer League lists farm work as the most dangerous profession for American teens. Educational programs alone are not strong enough protectors, these groups argue, and the industry needs stricter regulations to better protect American children.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer