By Sam Hananel Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Under pressure from farm groups, the Labor Department has agreed to modify a plan that’s intended to keep children away from some of the most dangerous farm jobs.
The proposal now will have broader exemptions for children whose parents own or operate farms, or have a substantial interest in a farm partnership or corporation, officials said Wednesday. The rules would ban children younger than 16 from using most power-driven equipment and prevent those younger than 18 from working in feed lots, grain bins and stockyards.
Farm groups had complained that the rules proposed last year would upset traditions where children often work alongside their parents and relatives to learn how a farm operates. They said the original language did not include thousands of farms that are owned by closely held corporations or partnerships of family members and other relatives.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said her agency would work with the Agriculture Department to ensure that the rules reflect the comments from rural communities.
“The Department of Labor appreciates and respects the role of parents in raising their children and assigning tasks and chores to their children on farms,” Solis said in a statement.
The fatality rate for child farm workers is four times higher than in other industries, and officials say they are trying to better protect kids.
More than 30 lawmakers from farm states had called on the department to rescind the rules, saying they would have a negative impact on rural employers and interfere with parents’ ability to train the next generation of farmers.
“The Labor Department listened to farmers and ranchers across the country,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This announcement and the additional opportunity for comment represent a common-sense approach to strengthen our agricultural economy while keeping farm kids safe.”