Over the last week, four North Country news organizations — including NCPR — have wrestled with the issue of farm worker safety, reporting on new rules designed to protect teenagers who work on farms.
Farmers, industry groups and Rep. Bill Owens generally describe the rules as a case of bureaucratic overreach, with the New York Farm Bureau accusing the Department of Labor of telling farmers “how to raise our kids.”
In my reporting, I also found some credible and compelling sources who have a very different take on this issue.
John Myers, an expert on work safety at the Centers for Disease Control, told me that kids working on farms face risks of injury and fatality that are three times higher than in other industries.
Even though relatively few American kids work on farms these days, farm-work fatalities now account for the majority of work-related deaths for young people.
“When I compare them to other kids working in other places, the numbers [of injuries and deaths] are just so out of line…it’s just hard to ignore them,” Myers said.
Groups including Human Rights Watch and Farmworker Justice have embraced the new rules, arguing that many large-scale modern farms are more like factories.
It’s also noteworthy that last month the non-partisan political fact-checking organization Politifact reviewed fears about bureaucratic overreach raised by the ag industry and members of Congress and concluded that they are “mostly false.”
“The proposed rules are aimed at protecting children involved in agribusiness, not at children learning farming from their flannel-clad dads,” Politifact found. “We find the orchestrated criticism misleading…”
So what do you think? Is this an industry trying to preserve child labor standards that were abolished in other risky workplaces decades ago? Is it a traditional way of life threatened by “clueless” bureaucrats?