2011-12-08 / Local & State

Some Pa. Farmers Oppose Proposed Child-labor Regs

SOMERSET, Pa. (AP) – Some Pennsylvania farmers are frustrated by proposed federal regulations that would ban children under 16 from some duties, including operating power-driven machines, working in silos and handling pesticides.

The U.S. Labor Department has received more than 4,000 comments on the proposals under consideration. The regulations wouldn't cover children who work on their parents’ farms, unless the farms are incorporated. The restrictions would also affect children working on farms owned by nonguardian relatives and others.

But some farms operate as corporations merely for inheritance purposes and that the regulations would hurt farmers’ability to teach their children about farm life, Somerset County Farm Bureau vice president Larry Cogan told the Daily American newspaper of Somerset.

“It is very important that kids help; it goes back to the idea that they are family farms,” Cogan said. “To have chores when you grow up on a farm is part of farm life. You learn by doing.”

But Labor Department officials point to statistics to argue that the government needs to step in, noting a child is killed on an agricultural site every three and a half days in the United States and 41 children suffer serious farm injuries each day, according to the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety.

“Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America,” the Labor Department said on its Web site. “The fatality rate for young agricultural workers is four times greater than that of their peers employed in nonagricultural workplaces.”

But the farmers said they would be the last people to endanger their own children by giving them chores they cannot handle.

“The government needs to be concerned with things that are problems, not with farms,” said Harold Shaulis, a Somerset Township farmer who remembers driving farm equipment when he was 12 years old while other family members baled hay. “More kids are hurt riding bicycles or on playgrounds than on farms.”

Shaulis said safety is the first thing he taught his children.

“If they are not physically, mentally and emotionally up to the task, we wouldn’t have them do it,” Shaulis said.

Cogan said newspaper ads seeking people to milk cows show it’s difficult to find farm help and said if teenagers can’t work anymore, farmers will be forced to hire more adult immigrant labor.

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