Craig Anderson, agriculture and labor safety services manager at Michigan Farm Bureau, calls the details about youth working on family farms "downright oppressive," and says the new rules would require children under 16 would to live with their grandparents for more than a month in order to legally work for them. He told Paul Jackson of Michigan Farm News, "The DOL assumes that youth under age 16 lack the 'cognitive ability' to herd animals on horseback, use battery-powered drills, put hay bales on a bale elevator or use any equipment except if powered by hand or foot."
The overarching reason for these updates is safety. Since the law was last amended over 40 years ago, most child injuries on farms have been suffered through use of machinery and dealing with farm animals. Jackson says the new provisions would disqualify youth farm-safety training received through 4-H or extension services, greatly reducing youth ability to participate in fairs or auctions. They would also not be allowed to treat or care for sick or injured animals.
The actual proposal paints a less severe picture and says the proposed revisions have been suggested after careful review of research, facts and recommendations from other agencies. It says research shows youth have not yet developed the "cognitive ability" to safely operate machinery without unnecessary risk-taking. The Labor Department found training through 4-H and extension to be insufficient because it usually only trains individuals how to use a single piece of equipment during a particular season. The department says year-round training on various types of equipment would be necessarily to properly prepare youth for farm work.
Since the last revision of the law, 20 percent of child injuries on farms have been caused by working with animals. To curb this, the department accepted recommendations from the National Farm Medicine Center which showed youth have not yet developed cognitive ability to deal with animals who may be in a compromised state. The proposals say youth should not work with uncastrated horses or bulls; brand, breed, dehorn, vaccinate, castrate or treat sick animals; or, herd animals on horseback.
Jackson writes, "The document betrays an attitude in government that, perhaps unconsciously, would destroy the generational family structure commonly found on farms." Another Michigan Farm Bureau employee says the rules would rob youth of valuable lessons they would carry with them throughout life. Advocates are urging farmers to submit comments about the proposed revisions until Nov. 1, when the comment period closes. (Read more)