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Training vital to young farm worker safety

Jeff Caldwell 05/03/2012 @ 8:49am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Much to the relief of farmers and ranchers, the U.S. Department of Labor last week backed away from what was garnering massive criticism from farm country: A proposal to restrict child labor on farms.

But even with that being the case, it's still just as important as ever that the younger working members of the farm family receive the training and instruction needed to operate machinery and safely take care of other jobs on the farm, says one farm safety expert.

In Ohio, for example, there are still requirements for 14- and 15-year-olds who want to work outside their own families' farms, according to Ohio State University Extension farm safety expert Dee Jepsen. Farmers should keep these regulations -- as well as any relevant training underage workers should complete before doing some jobs -- when putting younger family members to work on the farm.

"The people have spoken and they don't want the new regulations, but that doesn't mean we don't have any youth safety regulations," Jepsen says. "Even though the Labor Department rescinded the stronger proposal, there is still legislation for 14- and 15-year-old students wanting to work outside their parents' farm. We want to remind people of those rules and let them know that training is available. It's just as important for farm managers and employers to be sure the students they hire under the age of 16 are trained."

Ultimately, the federal government's pullback of the child labor proposal for farms puts more responsibility on farmers and farm safety educators to provide the necessary training and education for underage workers.

"We want to keep our young farm workers safe. If public policy remains unchanged, then we need to rely upon education to teach the dangers of farm work," Jepsen says. "Agricultural practices have changed, the technology has changed and there is new equipment, so we do need to update the training materials that students use."

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