The Portland (Maine) Press Herald, July 11, 2012
It’s either a cliche or a truism that family traditions run stronger in rural areas than in urban ones, but there’s an important example in the news now that illuminates the principle.
Officials in the U.S. Department of Labor recently proposed a rule limiting what kinds of jobs teenagers could hold in agricultural industries, including close relatives’ family farms.
The rules were in response to overall statistics showing that minors suffered a fatality rate four times higher in agricultural work than in other industries.
While farms owned by parents were exempt, the rules did prohibit minors from doing identical work -- such as driving tractors or operating other machinery -- on farms owned by other relatives, along with non-family businesses such as stock yards, feed lots, granaries and farm supply stores.
But the proposed rules had no sooner hit the news when they were plowed under by an overwhelmingly negative response from farm families, who not surprisingly depend heavily on older children to keep their operations from lying fallow.
It’s not that the families deny the work is hazardous. Farming is an inherently risky operation for workers of any age, since it is conducted with large, powerful machines that are used for cutting, plowing and digging, among other dangerous tasks. Working with large farm animals also carries its
From the families’ point of view, inculcating children with a familiarity with the family enterprise not only is a free contribution to the collective enterprise, it also boosts the chances that the younger generation will continue it in years to come.
And accident rates among workers younger than age 20 have been declining in recent years. Overall farm accident rates in that group dropped nearly 50 percent from 2001 to 2009.
The Labor Department wasn’t wrong to be concerned about fatalities among young farm workers, but families have made it clear they want to be the ones responsible for ensuring the safety of their own children.
Now, they have that responsibility and must prove they are worthy of it.
If the rate continues to be high, officials should revisit this issue, armed with the argument that no matter how parents feel, results are what counts.