Dept. of Labor, Fair Labor Standards Act, Farmworker Children, Health & Safety

Proposed Rules Would Sharply Cut Use of Youths for Work on Farms

From, Colleen Kottke, The Reporter, 7 Nov 2011.

Kristin Gudex prepares a cow for milking in this 2010 photo. Under proposed federal rule changes governing child labor standards in agricultural settings, youth under age 16 would not be allowed to milk cows except on farms owned or operated by their parents. / The Reporter file photo by Patrick Flood

Kristin Gudex prepares a cow for milking in this 2010 photo. Under proposed federal rule changes governing child labor standards in agricultural settings, youth under age 16 would not be allowed to milk cows except on farms owned or operated by their parents. / The Reporter file photo by Patrick Flood

Youth planning to earn college tuition working on grandpa’s farm may have to look for employment elsewhere

Proposed regulations from the Department of Labor will greatly limit the ability of youth under the age of 18 to work on farms or in jobs related to agriculture. Specifically, the regulations would change existing “hazardous occupation” categories and prohibit youth under age 16 from performing certain tasks unless they are working solely under the control of their parent or guardian.

Government officials say the rule changes are necessary to not only realign regulations for agriculture with non-agriculture occupations, but to keep youth safe. According to the American Medical Association, agriculture has the second highest fatality rate among young workers ages 15 to 24.

“My son couldn’t even cut the grass for his fast food employer but his classmates the same age were driving huge tractors on the road and operating dangerous farm equipment,” said Cassie Frank of Fond du Lac.

If the regulations are adopted, children under 16 will no longer be able to operate tractors or other power-driven equipment including skid loaders, lawn mowers, ATV’s, self-unloading wagons and milking machines. Those under age 18 would be prohibited from working in grain elevators, stockyards and livestock auctions. However, children working on farms owned or operated by their parents would be exempted from the rule changes.

Waupun Agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Tari Costello said that many of her students would be impacted by the new rule changes, including her own children who work for area farms.

“We need to attract more quality young people into this industry and this attraction starts at a young age. The passage of this legislation as written will make it very difficult for young people to start in the production agriculture business,” Costello said. “It will also affect local farmers who depend on this youth labor.”

The Fair Labor Standards Act took most children under 16 out of most workplaces. Agriculture has been the lone exception, said Mary Miller, child labor/young worker supervisor speaking on behalf of the National Children’s Center of Marshfield.

“Originally, most farms were small family operations. Today’s agricultural work environment is much different. Farms are larger and more specialized, with new technologies, processes, machinery and equipment,” Miller said. “This isn’t about keeping the kids out of ag jobs, but it’s to limit the work they can do based on the risk and age appropriateness of certain activities.”

While the new rules include a parental exemption — it allows youth to work on their parent’s farm — there is a gray area on whether the exemption is allowed when the farm ownership falls under a corporation or partnership, said Karen Gefvert, director of government relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.

“The guidance that the Department of Labor has put forth doesn’t accommodate for the complex nature of how farm ownership is structured under limited liability corporations and partnerships,” Gefvert said.

Under the new rules the Department of Labor has proposed to do away with the exemptions of 14- and 15-year-old hired farm workers who have received certification from approved Extension Service farm safety programs and some vocational ag certification programs. The Department of Labor says many of these programs haven’t been subjected to sufficient evaluations to confirm their effectiveness in preparing youth to safely operate tractors. Instead young workers would have to be enrolled in a vocational education program with at least 90 hours of instruction in the safe operation of tractors and agricultural equipment.

Mike Rankin, UW-Extension Crops and Soils agent for Fond du Lac County, said he would support a higher level of oversight in instructional programs. Rankin currently offers a 24-hour tractor safety certification program for area youth.

“I’m sure there are programs that are marginal in terms of effort and instruction. Here we offer a very high quality program and go over almost every item three or four times until kids are sick of hearing about PTOs,” Rankin said. “I don’t know what you would do in 90 hours to make kids more aware of the dangers than what we’ve been able to accomplish in 24.”

Rankin said students living in a school district without an agriculture program would be at a disadvantage. Those districts that do offer vocational agriculture programs might also be hard-pressed to find time for another class offering.

“School budgets are already tight and have limited staffing. This would be challenging for schools to incorporate due to the fact that this would represent an entire term to teach,” Costello said. “The earliest we could incorporate such a class would be in two years. And then, if we offer this class, which agriculture class will these students not be able to take due to scheduling?”


Safety experts say changes are needed in federal laws to protect youth working in agriculture-related jobs.

• Agriculture has the second highest fatality rate among young workers ages 15-24. During the 1900s, while only about 4 percent of all working youth were employed in agriculture-related jobs, this population represented over 40 percent of all youth occupational fatalities, according to the American Medical Association.
• Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported that agricultural workers ages 15 to 17 have an increased risk of being killed on the job, 4½ times greater than the average worker of the same age.

Public comments are an important part of the rule-making process.
“Be specific in questions, requests for rule clarifications and feedback based on the experiences you encounter on your own farm,” said Mary Miller of the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. “That’s the only way the rules will be improved, not through blanket statements.”
The public can access the proposed rules, including background, rationale and justification at or at The public may also submit comments, identified by RIN 1235-AA06 by one of the following methods:
• Online: through the Federal eRulemaking and following the instructions for submitting comments.
• Mail: Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, Room S-3502, 200 Constitution Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20210.
Comments will be accepted until Dec. 1.

Source:, “Proposed rules would sharply cut use of youths for work on farms” by Colleen Kottke, The Reporter, 7 Nov 2011.


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