Cyndi's Two Cents

Farm safety for youth

Commentary.

School is out – or soon will be – across the Heartland of America.  Many young people in rural communities will spend the summer working on their own family’s farm, a relative’s farm, or a neighbor’s farm.  Had a proposed rule passed earlier in the decade, things could be quite different for those youth.

Many of us remember well the collective sigh of relief and shouts of victory that echoed across the country when the United States Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division released a statement withdrawing its widely criticized proposed rule restricting children under the age of 16 from doing regular farm chores.  That victory in keeping the family active on family farms was proof to many that agriculture in America can come together with one loud and clear voice when inspired to do so.  There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that we in agriculture believe young people are not only significant participants on our family farms today, but very well may hold the future of those farms in their smaller, calloused hands.

The overwhelming message was that most farmers do not want some bureaucrats in an ivory tower states away telling them they can no longer hire teenagers to buck hay bales or detassel corn.  Most farmers and many others in agriculture felt the proposed Department of Labor rules were overreaching and would have wrongly restricted the activities in which young people are engaged on their own farms, on relatives’ farms and on neighbors’ farms.

According to the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America, on average 115 children under the age of 19 are killed in farm accidents every year in the United States.  It is interesting to point out that 92 of those were present in the workplace but not actually working.

Although 38 children are injured every day on U.S. farms, fewer than 8 of those youth are working when injured.

Agriculture is a dangerous profession.  We dedicate one week every year to remind and educate farmers and others who work in agriculture to be safe.  Many of you are familiar with the non-profit organization Farm Safety 4 Just Kids, founded in 1987 by a mother whose 11-year old son suffocated in a gravity flow wagon of shelled corn on his family’s Iowa farm.  The campaign to promote farm safety awareness that Marilyn Adams started 25 years ago now reaches across the United States and Canada.  It provides resources and training to individuals and communities to conduct farm safety awareness and education programs.  Farm Safety 4 Just Kids receives financial support from many large agribusinesses as well as individual donors.  This organization is a prime example of a successful grassroots effort to address a problem without government interference and undo added regulation.

The tools, technologies, equipment, and inputs used on farms in this country are, for the most part, much more advanced than those used when the previous legislation regulating safety practices of youth working in agriculture was enacted almost 45 years ago.  Although many of the “basics” are the same, the training for those who will work on a farm today is different than the training needed in 1972.  Are we investing enough time in training the next generation of farmers to be effective, efficient as well as safe?

  • I’m an agriculturalist and worked in seed corn field production fields in Nebraska. During detasseling season, thousands of youngsters would be walking long rows of corn pulling tassels. There is great supervision and supervisors that know where those youngsters are in their rows. Seed corn field companies care about the safety of employees and children working conditions. Timing is so important during detasseling but safety so much more important. I never risked youth safety.

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