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Proposed Changes in Child Labor Laws Might Affect Farms

Proposed Changes in Child Labor Laws Might Affect Farms
Still time to comment on proposed laws.

High-profile cases like one in Illinois where to boys under age 16 perished in a grain bin accident at a commercial operation have raised questions about laws regarding kids working in dangerous jobs in the U.S. In that particular case, the boys were not family members, but instead were being paid to be in the bins working.

In response, the first changes since 1970 have been proposed by federal agencies. They are not yet law. A comment period is open until Nov. 1 on the proposed law. Afterwards, federal agencies typically review the comments, may or may not make adjustments, and then eventually issue provisions that become part of the law.

The main issue this time is a provision that would not allow children under the age of 16 to work on farms, notes Bill Field, Purdue University farm safety specialist. The rules are being proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor. The restriction applies to specified hazardous activities, and would not affect children who are 16 or 17.

Also, the updated rules would continue to exempt family farms. That means children working for their families on the family farm could still engage in these activities, at least in the eyes of the law, below age 16. Whether that's smart of not may depend on a number of factors, including the activity, level of supervision, level of training and many more.

However, before you quit reading because you think your children are exempt, be aware of this caveat. Field says some of the language in the proposed updates to the child labor law are confusing, or seem to be at odds with one another. At one point, for example, the law talking about the exemption refers to children from 'non-corporate' farms, he says. Yet many farm operation are technically corporations today for business and tax reasons. If you're in one of them, you most likely still consider yourself a family farmer, but would these laws look at it the same way?

Those kind of discrepancies need to be worked out before the final rules are issues, Field says. He's been in contact with the people making the laws, and has conveyed these types of messages.

You can comment on the proposed rules until Nov. 1, but be aware that commenting can be an involved process. The proposed updates themselves are about 50 pages long.

First, you may want to check the Website that these changes are based on: Those were recommendations form a review carried out by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in 2002.

To comment electronically, go to: You will want to find this document:

Identify your comments with this docket number: 1235-AA06. Use the Federal eRulemaking portal to transmit your comments. You may also want to submit them by mail to make sure they are received in time.
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