Friday, February 02, 2018

Recent accidents prompt more debate about whether children should operate heavy farm equipment

Kholer Schachtschneider, 8, operates a skid steer on his family farm.
(New York Times photo by Alyssa Schukar)
Kids helping their parents on the family farm is an age-old tradition, but a string of grisly injuries has sparked intense discussion among farm safety groups and in rural communities about when and whether it's safe for children to operate or play near heavy equipment such as tractors or skid steers.

A child younger than 16 dies every three days in an agriculture-related accident, and lack of age restrictions on farm equipment are a key factor, according to the National Center for Rural Agriculture Health and Safety. That's a higher number of youth fatalities than in all other industries combined.

President Obama's administration proposed a law to keep kids from operating heavy equipment, but farmers and rural lawmakers decried the move as a nanny state overreach, though the proposal would have exempted children working on their parents' farms. Federal law says children of any age can do any job on their parents' farms at any time.

Farming parents say teaching their children the family business "is a way of passing on lessons about hard work, responsibility and the pulse of the land that their children will some day take over," Jack Healy reports for The New York Times. And with so many family farms barely making a profit, the whole family has to pitch in to help make ends meet.

But an accident can cause financial problems for farmers too, as it did for the Schachtschneider family when 6-year-old Cullen shredded his left leg in a skid steer last year. The Wisconsin family had to apply for a low-income health insurance program for him, and faces a mountain of bills. But Cullen's 9-year-old brother Maric and his 8-year-old brother Kholer are still driving the skid loader because the work still needs to be done.

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