Regulations or no, farm safety still needs to be priority

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Department of Labor's plan was well intended, and probably would not have been as draconian as critics contended, but withdrawal of proposed farm youth labor regulations is welcome news.

The agency announced that it would not pursue the matter for the rest of the Obama administration, but instead would work with groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation and Future Farmers of America to reduce accidents involving young people.

Despite rhetoric that it would prevent children younger than 16 from working on a farm, that was true only if it were not their own family's farm. And, it is true that farming is among the nation's most dangerous occupations. Still, the proposal would have kept thousands of youngsters from obtaining the practical farm and work experience that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

The rules would have prevented them from doing 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.

As we pointed out earlier in this space, however, of the 84 children, on average, who die each year on farms, 26,570 are injured at a cost of about $1. 4 million in medical bills.

The vast majority, however, were not work-related, or even farm-related, involving ATVs or other vehicles, for example. Many involve kids who are just visiting the farm, are not familiar with the dangers and might fall off Grandpa's tractor, for instance. Some of the youngsters most effected by the rules would have been those most likely to make a career of agriculture, FFA and 4-H participants.

The dropping of the proposal can be attributed in part to a "Let Me Get My Hands Dirty" campaign by the Nebraska Farm Bureau and FFA students. No one can argue with farm safety, but heavy-handed Washington bureaucracy is not the way to accomplish it.

Let's hope parents and other agricultural groups now put the effort they had been expending fighting the new regulations, into farm safety efforts that will be even more effective.

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