Parents Defend Putting Children to Work on Farms

The U.S. Labor Department has dropped its proposal to require paid farm workers to be at least sixteen to use power equipment, such as tractors or reapers, and to be at least eighteen to work at grain elevators, silos or feedlots.  These rules would not have applied to children working on their parent’s farms, but they would have limited the paid jobs children could do on their neighbor’s or relatives’ farms.

Dennis Mosbacher acknowledged the risks of farming as he watched his ten-year-old son drive a tractor across a soybean field.  He said, though, that the Labor Department was misguided in its attempt to protect children from farm accidents, as there is a risk in life no matter what you do.

Labor officials noted that children performing farm work are four times more likely to be killed than those employed in all other industries.  John Myers of OSHA’s surveillance and field investigations branch, said that he has not “seen any youth in other industries that are at higher risk,” and although farming may have been an accepted risk for the parent, the question is, is it acceptable to place that risk on the child?

Although there is a push for tougher restrictions on children working on farms, in recent years, fewer children are actually being injured on farms.  For every 1,000 U.S. farms, agriculture-related injuries to workers younger than twenty dropped by nearly half from 2001 to 2009, from 13.5 injuries to 7.2 injuries.

Farming groups attribute the decline to farmers’ and ranchers’ greater awareness of risks, but add that it is vital for children to begin farm work at an early age so that safety requirements become engrained in them.  They also note that rural youngsters have no options other than farm work when looking for summer jobs.

Debbie Mosbacher said that the proposed federal rules didn’t take into account the reality of farm life, where children grow up understanding the dangers and are eased into risky chores.  She stated that it is a necessity for kids on a farm to pitch in and help with chores.  Her son Jacob, first rode on the tractor in her husband’s lap when he was four, helping to feed the livestock, and then last year,  he started driving the lawn tractor, and now he drives the big tractor in the fields.  Everyone has a job to do, states Debbie, and if you “wait until they’re eighteen to teach them, it won’t be something that’s instinctive in them.”