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New child labor laws both too restrictive, ineffective
It's hard to argue against any effort to make children safer.
That's especially true in agriculture, a dangerous occupation even for adults.
Thus the Department of Labor regulations that would impose new limits on what children under age 16 are able to do while working anywhere but their parents' farm.
That includes anything to do with growing tobacco, using electronic equipment while operating power-driven equipment -- almost all of which they would be prohibited from operating, anyway -- as well as preventing children under 18 from being employed in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials.
They would be prohibited from working in country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feedlots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.
The problem is, the regulations won't work.
According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, about 84 children die each year in accidents on farms, and 26,570 are injured -- at a cost of about $1.4 billion in medical bills.
The rub? The vast majority of the cases, 86 percent of the deaths and 71 percent of the injuries, were not work-related. And, many were not even farm-related, such as accidents with ATVs or other vehicles.
Many involve kids who are just visiting the farm, aren't familiar with the dangers, and fall off grandpa's tractor, for instance.
All of us have been touched by farm accidents involving children in one way or another, and we all want to do what we can to prevent any further tragedies.
But heavy-handed federal regulations can have unintended consequences galore. Sadly, those of us who learned responsibility by driving tractors, milking cows and tending chickens are becoming more and more rare, and the new labor laws threaten to thin our ranks even farther.
The Nebraska Farm Bureau is but one organization working to stem the tide, launching a "Let me Get My Hands Dirty" campaign to raise concern over the proposed regulations.
Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson was set to enlist members of the Nebraska FFA today, saying the DOL's proposed rule "is written so broadly that it would prevent children who are working on a farm that isn't owned by their parents from doing such basic tasks such as climbing on a ladder over six feet tall, working with livestock or even operating a battery-powered flashlight or screwdriver."
"The safety of children working in agriculture is always our first priority," Nelson said, "However, it simply does not make sense for the DOL to limit or restrict what children have historically been allowed to do on farm and ranches when all they are looking for is to gain agricultural experience or make money for college," Nelson said.
The organization is asking 4-H and FFA students, detasslers and anyone with an interest in agriculture to sign a paper handprint. The prints will be collected and sent to the DOL to illustrate how many people, both young and old, are opposed to the proposed rule, according to a news release.
You can find out more by visiting www.nefb.org and clicking on the "Let Me Get My Hands Dirty" logo.
Agriculture is one of the bright spots in our current sluggish economy, although it faces numerous threats from changing policies and rising prices for fuel and agriculture. If it is to continue to survive and thrive, we must do everything possible to train and encourage the generation that will take it into the future.