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Ensuring Safety for Youth in Agriculture
Indiana Ag Connection - 11/17/2023

In the midst of harvest season, Purdue University casts a spotlight on the crucial responsibility agricultural employers hold when hiring young workers. The recent spate of injuries involving inexperienced workers underscores the inherent risks associated with farm labor, particularly during peak times.

Bill Field, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue, urges farm owners to recognize the gravity of their role in ensuring youth worker safety. “No crop is worth the life of a young worker,” he emphasizes, pointing out that accidents involving young laborers not only lead to tragic losses but also tarnish the reputation of the agricultural community.

The hiring of youth under the age of 16 in agriculture is governed by specific federal regulations known as the Hazardous Occupations Order in Agriculture (HOOAs), part of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. These rules clearly define what tasks young workers are legally permitted or prohibited from doing. For example, they are restricted from operating heavy machinery like tractors over 20 horsepower, handling dangerous substances such as pesticides, and working in potentially hazardous environments like grain storage facilities.

Despite the longstanding nature of these regulations, they do not cover all modern farming dangers, such as operating all-terrain vehicles and skid-steer loaders. This gap in the rules highlights the need for employers to exercise additional caution and judgment when assigning tasks to young workers.

Ignoring these guidelines can lead to severe consequences, including hefty fines up to $50,000 or more in cases involving serious injury or death, and potential criminal charges. Farms employing more than ten workers of any age also fall under the scrutiny of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which can escalate cases of negligence to the U.S. Justice Department.

Field concludes by stressing the vulnerability of young employees to workplace injuries. He asserts that adherence to safety regulations not only prevents tragedies but also shields employers from civil liabilities. In essence, prioritizing the safety of young workers in agriculture is not just a legal obligation but a moral imperative for the farming community.

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