On a beautiful Fall day, my children and I drove up to the North Georgia mountains to visit an apple farm. My children were thrilled to be back in the country and enjoyed every minute of apple picking. One of their favorite pastimes in Summer is gathering tomatoes and peppers from the small garden in our backyard, sometimes passing them through the fence to their friends. And yes, we live in the suburbs with a small yard, but we didn’t need Mrs. Obama to extol the virtues of gardening before planting our own garden. My children also enjoy spending time on our relatives’ farms so much that they have begun squirreling away money in a shoebox, pooling their rewards for chores around the house, with the goal of one day buying some land for a farm of their own. I can only dream that they will continue to save for such a worthy plan!
However, the Obama Labor Department continues its attack on the heartland and jobs with newly proposed rules that will make many chores around large farms illegal if they succeed. The new rules “would prohibit most children under age 16 from driving tractors, using power equipment, working with livestock in certain circumstances and doing work at heights over 6 feet.” There might be an exception if the parent owns the farm, but if another individual or a corporation owns it or if the child is paid a salary, the U.S. Labor Department can regulate it as an employer-employee relationship.
Michael Hancock, from the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, stated that farming is “the single-most hazardous occupation, as measured by fatalities, for children.”
Nearly 29 out of every 100,000 farm workers in the U.S. die on the job, according to the National Safety Council. Among workers ages 15 to 24, the rate is about 21 deaths per 100,000 workers. Statistics for workers younger than 15 aren’t available because there isn’t enough data on them.
The average number of farm-related child deaths per year is 104. The most common cause is tractor rollover or run over. (The fatalities of those over 75 years of age is also high.)
While there are far too many accidental deaths on farms, a more pervasive problem is the high number of fatalities for teen drivers. In 2009, about 3,000 teens in the United States aged 15–19 were killed and more than 350,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor-vehicle crashes.
Michael Hancock’s statement that farming is “the single-most hazardous occupation, as measured by fatalities, for children,” seems like an odd label for these tragedies. So how many “occupations” for children are there anyway? Doing chores around your yard now falls under the purview of Big Government? What if your young teen hops on your lawn mower to earn some spending money (or maybe just because he or she is expected to contribute to upkeep at home)? Keep a sharp eye out for Big Brother leering around the corner and plotting the next invasion into family life with a tsk-tsk and wagging a finger of disapproval. Why, that’s not a riding lawn mower- no, it’s a lawn tractor! Soon those beloved John Deere toy tractors may go the way of Joe Camel.
Farmers expressed their dismay over these new rules in the Washington Post:
Iowa Cattlemen chief executive Matt Deppe said he believes the new rules would make it harder for young people to get the hands-on experience they need to become interested in agriculture.
‘I see them as creating a barrier for young people interested in the business,’ said Deppe, who grew up on a farm and learned to drive a tractor at age 10.
Matt Muller of Oklahoma is voicing his concern:
“It’s very disheartening to me,” he said. “Farming is not just a business. It’s a way of life.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Hancock from the U.S. Labor Department offers some solace:
Remember, a 14 or 15 year old can still detassle the corn!