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OSU expert: Proposed farm safety rule withdrawn, but training still needed for teens

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Written Tuesday, May 01, 2012  

While the U.S. Department of Labor's decision to withdraw proposed farm youth labor rules means farm families won't have to take on new requirements for minors to work on their farms, previous legislation still requires young farm workers to have some training, said Ohio State University Extension's state safety leader.

The proposed rules would have banned children younger than 16 from using most power-driven farm equipment without first taking a specific training course. But even with the legislation shelved, Dee Jepsen said all of the discussion has raised awareness of current regulations and likely will mean organizations such as OSU Extension will see more young people signing up for existing training.

"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," she said. "Even though the Labor Department rescinded the stronger proposal, there is still legislation for 14- and 15-year-old students wanting to work outside their parents' farms.

"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."

The proposed rules, which were supported by child labor advocacy groups, would have also restricted youths younger than 18 from working in feedlots, grain bins and stockyards. The rules were withdrawn following criticism from agricultural groups. The Labor Department said it had received thousands of comments about the rule and its effect on small family farms.

"As a result, the Department of Labor is announcing ... the withdrawal of the proposed rule dealing with children under the age of 16 who work in agricultural vocations," the agency said in a statement.

To prepare for the expected increase in students interested in the training courses, OSU Extension plans to expand its farm safety course offerings and will offer more courses starting this summer, Jepsen said. Currently, teens younger than 16 who want to work on farms other than their parents' farms have to go through a 24-hour training program and earn a certificate.

Each year, Ohio certifies nearly 300 students in local training courses, she said.

Updated courses will soon be offered online, Jepsen said, which will be helpful for teens in smaller communities that don't offer any similar youth farm safety training courses.

The withdrawal of the proposed rules actually increases the need and support for youth safety training, she said.

"We want to keep our young farm workers safe," she said. "If public policy remains unchanged, then we need to rely upon education to teach the dangers of farm work."

Jepsen said it's important to consider that the previous legislation was enacted 40 years ago.

"So perhaps there was a need for an update," she said. "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.

"Ohio State has a good track record on what should be in these programs. Through our outreach and research, we have learned what should be included in the training."

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