From DurangoHerald.com, 16 Nov 2011.
Farmers worry proposed labor regulations will hurt operation
Colorado family farmers are worried about a proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor to change child-labor laws, saying they could cripple family farms and hurt programs such as the Future Farmers of America and 4-H Club.
One rule would allow children younger than 15 to work only on their parents’ farm. Another would keep children younger than 16 from driving most power equipment.
Nonagriculture workers younger than 18 would be banned from grain elevators, silos, livestock exchanges and auctions. The new rules also would stop children younger than 15 from working near sexually mature livestock, including bulls and boars or nursing cows and sows.
Barbara Jefferies, president of the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association, said the proposed changes don’t give farm families credit for common sense.
“Ranch families are careful to let kids do only what they are old enough to do,” Jefferies said Wednesday. “They teach safety at an early age. After all, they are parents concerned about their children.”
Jefferies said more restrictive child-labor laws could be devastating to 4-H and FFA programs.
“Children under 15 could work on their parents’ ranch,” Jefferies said. “But what if a kid from town wants to participate? It’s not going to happen because of the liability.”
Colorado Farm Bureau spokesman Shawn Martini said that agriculture groups hope to persuade the Labor Department to amend its proposals.
“In D.C., they really don’t understand they are trying to stop what are common practices out here,” Martini said.
So far, the farmers have persuaded the department to delay action until Dec. 1 so they could get more input.
Greg Felsen, the Colorado State University Extension’s 4-H adviser in La Plata County, said that while child safety is paramount, the proposed changes raise issues connected to rural life and small-farm operations.
“There are practicality issues,” Felsen said.
It’s too early to say what effect the proposed changes would have on 4-H programs, Felsen said.
“I’m waiting until more information comes out,” Felsen said. “The CSU 4-H director hasn’t made a statement yet, either.”
Farm advocates say the intent of the revisions is to increase safety standards for children because farming and ranching are among the most dangerous occupations.
Authorities said they want to prevent accidents like the one that killed 17-year-old Cody Rigsby, who died in 2009 while working at Tempel Grain Elevators’ grain elevator in Haswell, in southeastern Colorado. Prosecutors say he suffocated after entering a grain bin while grain was flowing from it.
Tempel Grain Elevators pleaded guilty to violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules. A federal judge ordered the company to pay $50,000 in fines and penalties to OSHA and $500,000 to Rigsby’s family.
The new rules could bar those younger than 15 from raising animals as part of a 4-H project or learning the newest techniques in animal husbandry, Cattlemen’s Association vice president Terry Fankhauser said.
The Associated Press and Staff Writer Dale Rodebaugh contributed to this report.