For every 1,000 U.S. farms, agriculture-related injuries to workers younger than 20 dropped by nearly half from 2001 to 2009, from 13.5 injuries to 7.2 injuries, according U.S. government figures. Injuries were most common among children ages 10 to 15, but they also dropped by nearly half during that period.
Farming groups attribute such declines to farmers' and ranchers' greater awareness of risks, but they add that it's vital children begin farm work at an early age so safety requirements become engrained in them. Agriculture groups also note that rural children looking for summer jobs often have no option other than farm work and enhancing regulations could dampen kids' enthusiasm for becoming farmers.
"We're the first to recognize that farming can be dangerous, but broad, sweeping intervention is not the best way to go about addressing it," said Kristi Boswell, the congressional relations chief for the American Farm Bureau Federation, which opposed the Labor Department's push.
Debbie Mosbacher said the proposed federal rules didn't reflect the reality on farms, where children grow up understanding the dangers and are eased into risky chores.
She noted that for Jacob, that meant riding on the tractor in his father's lap when he was 4 and feeding livestock when the cattle still towered over him. Last year, he started driving the riding lawnmower.
When it comes to farm kids pitching in, "a lot of times, yes, it's a necessity," she said. "A 10-year-old may not be able to load a 70-pound bale. But everyone's got a job to do, and if you wait until they're 18 to teach them it won't be something that's instinctive in them."
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