It is common to find children 12 years of age and younger in rural America working on family farms, driving tractors and trucks and doing all manner of work. Soon that may change. Last September the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a change in Child Labor Law to restrict young people from working in the agriculture industry before the age of 16. “That’s correct,” said Cache County Agricultural Extension Agent, Clark Israelsen. “The DOL has taken a look at making changes in some of the child labor laws. Ag has been exempted in the past from a lot of those guidelines. But there is concern that where agriculture is considered a dangerous industry that we probably ought to be a little more careful on letting some of our young people be engaged in any part of the farming operation.” He said the farming community likes to use the statistic that childhood injury rates have dropped roughly 60 percent the last 10 years and that equipment and facilities are safer. “One of the benefits of living on a farm for young people is that a child can learn how to work and accept responsibility and how to make decisions at a young age. Usually they are under the supervision of a parent or grandparent.” Israelsen said the DOL is still taking public comment and receiving opinions from both sides. Another argument from the farming community is that it will be difficult to get the work done, especially at harvest time, without the youth workforce. “The view from the other side is that we shouldn’t take any chance and that the safety of our children has to be a priority and if there is even a remote possibility of injury we should not allow them to be exposed to that injury working with livestock or equipment.” Under pressure from farm groups the DOL has modified their plan, including exemptions for children whose parents are part owners or operators of farms or who have a substantial interest in a farm partnership. “It is safe to say the Ag community is really not fighting it as much as we’re concerned that it might be overkill,” said Israelsen. “Obviously we want to be sure our children are safe. And in an effort to do that our equipment is much safer now than it has ever been, everything from rollover protection to enclosed cabs and shields on all of the moving parts. So we are concerned with the legislation but at the same time it is terrible whenever there is an injury, especially if there is a death.”
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