The effort by the Department of Labor to prohibit many teens from working on farms other than those directly owned by their parents has generated one of the bigger agricultural brouhahas in many years.  While the Labor Department has admittedly paused its enforcement efforts pending more study, some new data on youth injuries on farms has been released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, according to Illinois blogger Stu Ellis. 

On Sept. 2, 2011, the Department of Labor proposed new regulations on child labor “which set forth the criteria for the permissible employment of minors under 18 years of age in agricultural and non-agricultural occupations. The proposal would implement specific recommendations made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, increase parity between the agricultural and nonagricultural child labor provisions, and also address other areas that can be improved, which were identified by the department’s own enforcement actions. The proposed agricultural revisions would impact only hired farm workers and in no way compromise the statutory child labor parental exemption involving children working on farms owned or operated by their parents.”

The proposal set off a firestorm that has resulted in some congressmen proposing legislation to prohibit the Labor Department from enacting the regulations.

The issue was addressed by Farmgateblog.com in earlyNovember and continues to draw comments from across the country taking issue with the Labor Department initiative.

However, on April 5 the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released the results of a study about the trend in injuries to youth on farms from 2001 to 2009.  The study does not exactly parallel the group targeted by the Labor Department, but indicates that injuries to youth on farms during the years studied has been cut nearly in half “from 13.5 injuries per 1,000 farms in 2001 to 7.2 injuries per 1,000 farms in 2009.”  The study looked at injuries to anyone under the age of 20, and defined an injury as an event that restricted activity for at least four hours or required medical attention.

The Labor Department has targeted youth under the age of 18 for restricting their engagement in agricultural activities, such as operating machinery, managing livestock, working with farm chemicals and operating any electronic device.

The new NASS report breaks down youth injuries into several groups:  under 10 years of age, 10 to 15 years of age, and 16 to 19 years of age, which will generate “apples and oranges” comparisons.  The upper age bracket will have the most capacity to help in a farming operation; however, the 10- to 15-year-olds will be able to provide significant assistance on a farm, and would frequently be engaged in 4-H livestock projects that would no longer be permitted by the Labor Department regulations.

The 10- to 15-year-old age group sustained the most injuriesof any age group throughout the years that were studied, which is not surprising.  It reflects anxiousness to help, but inexperience, and the lack of total understanding about risks that should not be taken.

Interestingly, the study separated youth working on farms, which totaled 749,000 in 2009, from the 27.6 million youth that had worked or visited a farm in 2009.  While the number of total injuries for all youth working or visiting farms declined from 13.5 to 7.2 per 1,000 farms, the number of injuries among youth working on farms decline from 4.0 to 1.5 per 1,000 farms over the eight-year period.

In all categories, there was a trend of declining number of injuries, regardless of age, residence oremployment.  That occurred along with a trend that indicated there was an increase in the number of youth either working on or visiting farms.

The Labor Department’s focus has been on youth actually employed on farms and assigned work to accomplish.  The actual work-related injuries were 29% of all injuries on farms in 2001, and that steadily declined to 20% in 2009.

The two- page report is easily understood, but the Labor Department has yet to weigh in on the report. Read it at http://www.farmgateblog.com/article/1575/injuries-to-farm-youth-declining-substantially.