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Clarifying the Department of Labor's Child Labor Proposal

Posted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Conservation
Feb 21, 2017

Recently there has been some concern and confusion in rural America over the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed regulations on child labor and I’d like to help clarify how this regulation will impact our farmers.   We all know that kids benefit from good old-fashioned farm work.   It’s a longtime way of life that has helped make this country strong, and it teaches kids lessons that last a lifetime.

However, statistics show that while only 4 percent of working youth are in the agriculture sector, 40 percent of fatalities of working kids are associated with machines, equipment, or facilities related to agriculture.  That’s way too high.  We don’t want to blur the line between teaching kids about a good day’s hard work, and putting them in situations more safely handled by adults.

First, it is important to know that DOL is not proposing any changes to how a son or daughter can help on their family farm.  There is nothing in the proposed rule that affects the ability of parents and families to assign chores and tasks to their children.  Further, the proposed rule respects the various ways that farms are structured in rural America, including partnerships and LLC’s.   DOL is looking at possible approaches to simply protect the safety of children hired to work on a farm.

DOL announced their proposal on September 2 to start a conversation about how to keeps kids out of harm’s way and solicited comments from the agricultural community to ensure everyone had an opportunity to provide input.   USDA worked with DOL to extend the comment period through December 1, to give the farming community additional time to prepare and submit comments to help avoid unintended consequences that impact farmers and ranchers.

We want to ensure that children of farm families maintain their ability to help with the family farm, while working to prevent unnecessary child injuries or deaths.

In the months ahead, we will continue to work with DOL on how to find a common-sense approach to strengthening our agricultural economy and keeping our farm kids safe.

Click here to learn more about DOL’s proposed rule.

Category/Topic: Conservation

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Dec 12, 2011

Thank you Agriculture Secretary Vilsack for the clarification and update.

Hannah Sharp
Dec 12, 2011

I personally have grown up on a farm and believe that with proper education from parents or farm/ranch owners the youth should not have a fear of injury. There are always dangerous equipment on farms and always the fear of large animals being around children, but hard work is something not most young people are learning or having to experience in todays economy. Safety is key in rural communities, but hard work is a skill that everyone should have to learn and understand.

Farmer's Daughter
Dec 12, 2011

We do not support the law. There is no confusion on our end. We feel as though the children of America should be able to work on a farm if their family and employer believe it is safe. The government is over stepping it's bounds on with this law. It is also a way for the government to create revenue (through fines), not keep kids safe.

Eric Pool
Dec 13, 2011

How long till there are no decisions for me to make on my farm because the "regulations" have already made all my decisions for me?

Dewey Mann
Dec 15, 2011

Secretary Vilsack,

Thank you for addressing an issue that is important to rural America.

I have read the 50 page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published by the Department of Labor and agree with the need for update, but have concerns with some of the language. I am very encouraged that awareness is being raised to the agriculture community regarding a 40 year old amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) known as the Agricultural Hazardous Occupations Orders (Ag H.O.s).

First off, as a professional in agricultural safety and health, I struggle with statistics such as "40 percent of fatalities of working kids are associated with machines, equipment, or facilities related to agriculture.". Do we know if these youth are being employed or are engaging in recreational activities such as ATV riding that happens to take place in a rural farm setting?

The proposed rules site the original amendment in 1968 as being "...prepared with farm organizations, farm business groups, farm safety experts, Federal and state government agencies, and agricultural colleges." (FR 54839). With the out cry of comments from these very stakeholders, I see no evidence that would suggest input from these entities was sought prior to draft of the proposed rules. I am encouraged that the Department of Labor will work closely will all key stakeholders before rushing these much needed updates to the FLSA.

Terms found in the proposed rule such as 'power-driven machinery' imply to some stakeholders as meaning that youth will not be about to operate a cordless power drill for hire. While I personally do not believe this was the intent of the proposed rule, vague language such as this could have strict consequences against small agribusinesses in a court of law.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.