House Backs Safety Exemptions for Minors on Family Farms

By voice vote, the U.S. House today passed legislation that would preserve the exemption from most safety regulations for minors working on farms owned or partially owned by members of their extended family, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles.

The bill, H.R. 4157, was drafted in response to a rule proposed by the Labor Department on Sept. 2, 2011 -- and withdrawn eight months later -- that imposed stricter regulations for child labor on farms. The measure passed today would block any future attempt by the department to issue similar rules, with supporters saying implementation of such policies would prevent experiential learning opportunities for a future generation of farmers and restrict their ability to earn money for college.

“If we want to put America back in business, back to work, one of the first things we must do is crack down on overregulation,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Tom Latham of Iowa. “We can’t allow federal bureaucrats -- many of them have never set foot on a farm -- to tell Iowa farm families how to run their operations.”

The proposed rule was “one of those misguided regulation attempts” that “went beyond all common sense and would have destroyed opportunities for youth across the agricultural economy,” said Latham, whose state leads the nation in corn and soybean production.

Family Farms

In a July 2010 report, the Agriculture Department noted that as of 2007, the most recent data available, 98 percent of U.S. farms were family operations. The bill would prevent changes to current law, which allows minors working on farms owned by members of their extended family to be exempt from most safety regulations. The Labor Department had proposed to tighten the exemption to include only farms owned by parents or “persons standing in the place of a parent.”

Minors working on farms are subject to a different set of rules than those in other industries and currently face fewer safety restrictions. The proposed rule would have narrowed the regulatory gap between agriculture and other industries by prohibiting children from operating certain equipment, such as hand-held power tools and tractors. Tractor-related deaths are the most common agricultural fatality, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Increased mechanization and the use of chemicals have made farming a more dangerous occupation in recent years, according to the Labor Department. The proposed rule was based on recommendations from NIOSH, which found that between 2003 and 2007, persons ages 15 to 24 working on farms had the second-highest occupational fatality rate, with 21.3 deaths for every 100,000 persons. The highest for that age group was in mining, with 36.5 deaths per 100,000.

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