With Chuck Schwartau
**Extended comments highlighted in blue.
Proposed federal rules limiting child labor on farms created quite an uproar this past spring and summer. Many players in agriculture weighed in on the discussion and raised enough questions that the Department of Labor withdrew the proposal.
Some people might look at that as a win for agriculture and democracy in action. The exercise nevertheless should have brought everyone’s attention to the fact that agriculture is still one of our nation’s most hazardous occupations.
When you add the fact that it is an industry where many of the participants literally live in their workplace and children are around a great deal, the responsibility needs to be taken seriously.
No parent intentionally puts his or her children in a position where they could be injured or worse. Children on farms, however, are frequently asked to "help out for a minute" without thinking about the hazards that go with that simple request.
Children aren’t small adults. They lack the level of judgment, understand-ing, physical strength and decision-making skills that may be necessary to work safely.
Every parent or guardian who has children on the farm should take the time to study the North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks (NAGCAT) and learn about appropriate tasks for children and how to develop a safe environment for young people to participate in agriculture.
NAGCAT is a product of the Marshfield (Wisconsin) Clinic Research Foundation. Note: This clinic is in the heart of farm country, not some institution in the middle of a metropolis where there is little understanding of production agriculture.
NAGCAT has produced a set of simple guideline posters (some available in Spanish) that can help a parent or guardian assess whether or not children should be performing more than 60 typical tasks on the farm.
The list ranges from the typical, early task of feeding calves to operating skid-steer loaders and large tractors. The posters include questions related to the child’s ability to focus on a task and follow simple instructions, vision and strength, training, and recommended level of super-vision by adults. All are designed to help decide whether a child can safely handle the task at hand.
These posters are available free of charge from the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation (follow the Dot for bonus content below). If you are interested in safety training, developing best practices for safe farm opera-tion, and public information on farm safety, you can find resources at the website.
As parents, encourage others to use the resource with their children. If all the parents in your area are working from the same set of guidelines, peer pressure backs down considerably. It probably results in a safer neighborhood where children can still be safely involved in the farming operation, but be at appropriate levels.
Youth employment in agriculture is a topic that won’t go away. There will always be those who want to make the rules more stringent. The more the agriculture community does itself to practice good judgment and safety, putting children only at appropriate tasks and with adequate supervision, the less likely you will see stringent rules imposed upon you by others.
The responsibility for safety of youth living and working on farms is in your hands.
- December 2012