The U.S. Department of Labor announced last week an extension of the public comment period for proposed changes to the regulations governing employment of youth on farms and agricultural enterprises.
"The proposed changes to the Agricultural Child Labor Laws are bringing about many questions for safety professionals, agricultural businesses who hire youth, and agricultural educators who teach farm safety to youth audiences," says Dee Jepsen, program leader and assistant professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. "Due to the impact this topic will make on many small farms and agribusinesses, the public comment period has been extended for another 30 days. The new deadline is Dec 1, 2011."
Farmers and parents with a vested interest in the proposal are encouraged to read the changes and be aware the new regulations will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012. While the department encouraged comments from everyone, she said regulators are especially interested in input from those who employ young workers, are educators of young workers, or are parents of young workers.
One of the key reasons for the extension of the public comment period has been significant feedback from the public, agricultural policy organizations and legislators.
"Public comments - to date nearly 1,100 - have ranged from examples of small farm economics, building work ethic and responsibility in young people, and the types of training programs available to teach young workers about safety," Jepsen says. "But perhaps the most repeated comment received from concerned citizens and farm families has to do with the management structure of today's family farm. Operations have changed over time, and farmers managing family farms are not always parents."
She says child labor regulations have traditionally allowed that children working for their parents on the farm were exempt from following the federal labor guidelines. However, significant changes in ownership patterns and corporate farm structures over the interceding decades mean rules written 40 years ago no longer reflect the reality of farm youth working on the family farm.
Jepsen encouraged farmers, educators and other interested parties to read the proposed regulations online, and submit comments during the public comment period, regardless of their position on the proposed changes. She said additional information can be found the online via the OSU Ag Safety and Health Program.