Friday, October 7, 2011

Child Labor Laws and Livestock - Proposed Rule Changes for Agricultural Employment

 Getting lots of play in agricultural publications and organizations are the September 2, 2011 proposed changes in Child Labor Regulations by the Department of Labor (DOL).  The Proposed  New Rules are available for review and comment, and can be found HERE at the DOL web site in a PDF file.  All references in this blog refer to this PDF file. 

The focus of the proposed rule changes are specifically in regard to youth employed in agriculture.  One of the primary complaints I've read is that it will lay the groundwork for the Fed to re-interpret what is defined as a family farm, and thus prevent youngsters from being 'legal' participants in the family's livestock or crop farming pursuits. 

A review of the proposal was very enlightening as to the high rate of injury of agricultural workers found in the lengthy preamble to the specifics of the proposed changes.  In regard to rate of injuries in livestock operations, the following statistics were provided:

"The injury rates for workers (adult) in beef cattle ranching and farming, which includes feedlots, was reported . . . to be 9.4 per 100 full-time workers in 2006, 8.7 per 100 full-time workers in 2007, and 7.2 per 100 full-time workers in 2008 (data available at HERE.).  These incidence rates are almost twice the national average for all private industry during the sample years." (PDF, Page 12)
"NIOSH cites several studies that demonstrate animals are one of the most common sources of injuries to children on farms and notes that, in 1998, it estimated that 20% of all injuries to youth under the age of 20 occurring on farms were animal-related. . .  Livestock-handling injuries are among the most severe of agricultural injuries; they are more costly and result in more time off work than other causes of agricultural injuries." (PDF, Page 24)

This is Flora Rae, Born 9/20/11, and pictured here
only a day old, and undoubtedly with her umbilical
cord 'present'.  Picture is courtesy of Al Ross, and Flora Rae
was sired by his fine Colonel Beau British white bull.

The rate of injury for children cited is alarming, but it is unclear contextually just what the population of 'children' are that were injured by animals, and it is an 'estimate' rather than a hard statistic.  A specific example was given of a 15 year old girl who was seriously injured.  She apparently was helping pen calves in a corral made from metal pipe, and was penned against the pipe by a "stampeding calf" and actually stomped on as well.  That is surely an extreme event, at least in my opinion.  And we are told that current laws prohibited her from working there, so these proposed rule changes would just be an added layer to existing regs with a bump as well in the age to a vague '16 or 17' age limit.  "The Department . . . is proposing to extend these same protections to minors who are 16 or 17 years of age. "  (PDF, Page 12)

Likening a livestock auction barn work environment to a family beef cattle farm is really lumping apples with the oranges.  One has to wonder if the majority of the serious injuries to children under age 20 mostly occurred in an auction barn environment.  Apparently, the DOL did not consider breaking down those 'estimates' based on 'studies', in order to differentiate and better assess the rate of livestock related injuries on family farms.

Among the new rules proposed by the DOL, one provides that 'youth' below that vague '16 or 17' years of age cannot work cattle on horseback, or any other method best I can tell.  Our docile British White cattle don't require a horse or motorized buggy to pen them or move them to new pastures, so we British White breeders would not be impacted by that.  However, there are many youngsters who do enjoy riding a horse and learning to pen cattle.  I have to wonder if implementation of these new rules will see the demise of youth rodeos!  Will team ropers have to work with cow dummies?  Maybe remote control operated calves?  Oops, forgot, those kids are doing it for fun only, and that will remain legal . . .

My niece, Taylor, 17 years old, employed by me part-time, interacting
with an uncastrated male bovine, and if the new rules were in place now,
this would be an Illegal Act.
 The new rule that irritates me the most provides that no 'youth' can be allowed anywhere near an uncastrated bull calf over the age of 6 months.  Yep, you just read right.  Nor can they be allowed near a newborn calf and mother when the "umbilical cord is still present".  Do they mean freshly pink and present, or dried and a couple weeks old and present, or still attached to the cow?! 

My niece is now 17 years old.  Just last weekend she walked among a herd full of uncastrated bulls over the age of 6 months.  Not only that, she interacted with them.  If these rules were in effect now, I would have multiple fines assessed I suppose, as she is officially working for me on weekends.  I am not her parent, so that would also be an immediate prohibition on her working here as the proposed 'new rules' would not allow any kid to work with livestock unless it was a family farm.  No 'exemption' via 'student learner' training, etc... is proposed; I suppose they couldn't figure out how to teach cattle handling in the classroom.  The full text in regard to livestock is below.

New Restrictions Proposed for Working with Livestock, and No Provision for a Student-Learner Exemption, as is the case with operating Farm Equipment:

"Accordingly, the Department proposes to revise § 570.72(b)(4) entitled Certain Occupations Involving Working with or around Animals . . .  and redesignate it as § 570.99(b)(4). This . . . would prohibit working on a farm in a yard, pen, or stall occupied by an intact (not castrated) male equine, porcine, bovine, or bison older than six months, a sow with suckling pigs, or cow with newborn calf (with umbilical cord present); engaging or assisting in animal husbandry practices that inflict pain upon the animal and/or are likely to result in unpredictable animal behavior such as, but not limited to, branding, breeding, dehorning, vaccinating, castrating, and treating sick or injured animals; handling animals with known dangerous behaviors;  poultry catching or cooping in preparation for slaughter or market; and herding animals in confined spaces such as feed lots or corrals, or on horseback, or using motorized vehicles such as, but not limited to, trucks or all terrain vehicles. . . . The Department does not propose that a student-learner exemption apply to this . . ."  (PDF, Page 25)

Choosing a gentle cattle breed such as the British White is a very effective step toward prevention of serious livestock injuries, but perhaps the most effective prevention of serious injury when handling livestock is actually plain common sense.  Essentially the DOL's proposed new rules in regard to livestock are an attempt to legislate Common Sense.  I would never let my niece near any animal that would harm her.  She is naturally cautious herself, as I have taught her to be.   But there is still that nagging question out there. . . Why is the DOL choosing now to propose these new rules? 

Perhaps the answer lies in the more international environment with respect to livestock activities.  Cattle continue to be maligned as climate change causing critters.  The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations continues to promote a change to a 'vegan' diet for the 'general population'.  The FAO predicts the family beef cattle farm will cease to exist as the owners will not be able to afford to pay the 'true cost' of the operation once the FAO and EPA recommended regulations, fines and taxes are assessed to the small family farm. 

Once you regulate away the right of children to help out on the farm or narrowly redefine what the parent can allow them to participate in on the farm -- the parents will have to hire additional help at higher wages, which can literally make or break a small beef cattle operation.  Hmmm . . . could that be a primary back door goal of these proposed new rules?

Or is the primary goal of these new rules the laying of the ground work to redefine just what is a family farm.  In this modern world there are several business entity types that can be set up for the operation of farms, ranches, and any other business pursuit -- S Corporations, C Corporations, LLC's, Partnerships, and of course plain old Sole Proprietorships.   I highly doubt this section of the proposed new rules is there just to fill white space - someone finds it necessary and pertinent to long range goals to ". . . clarify the parental exemption involving agricultural employment." 

This is Perhaps What Most Have Found Worrisome as it Relates to the Survival of the Family Farm:

"The Department proposes to clarify the parental exemption involving agricultural employment by including information about the exemption discussed in the Background section of this preamble. The proposal provides guidance as to who qualifies as a parent; what determines that a farm is ‘‘operated by’’ a parent; and how the Department interprets the extension of this parental exemption to persons standing in the place of a parent as well as a relative who may take temporary custody of a youth and stands in the place of the parent. The revision also notes that the parental exemption—both in terms of working during school hours and performing hazardous occupations normally prohibited . . .—would not apply to the employment of a child of a farmer when that child is employed on a farm not owned or operated by his or her parent. It also addresses related situations, such as where the farm or its property may be owned by a closely-held corporation or partnership consisting of family members or other close relatives." (PDF, Page 31)

Taylor and Aunt Jimmie in the bull herd, I can just hear the metal bars clanging as the jail cell is slammed shut in coming years on . . . . some farmer some where.