Egregious Dept. of Labor Rules Yank Youths Out of Agriculture

Erika Johnsen

12/14/2011 4:49:00 PM - Erika Johnsen

The federal government is out of control. From the WSJ:

A useful proxy for the overall level of regulatory activity is the government document known as the Unified Agenda, which details all proposed or final rules and is compiled twice a year by the federal Regulatory Information Service Center. The nearby chart shows the trend of major rules under contemplation since 1995, including the most recent from this spring.

The current number of major new rules is 149, which is an historic high. Regulation started to grow in the aftermath of 9/11, and even more with the Pelosi Congress in 2007. Yet both the rule-making rate and number are surging to even higher levels under Mr. Obama.

There can be no doubt about it: the regulatory surge under the Obama administration is at least one of the factors bogging down our struggling economic recovery. Democrats can bleat about supposed ‘fairness’ until the cows come home, but increased taxes on millionaires are not an antidote to the costly impositions of government regulation. Health care, finance, energy, housing, etcetera… no industry is safe from the federal bureaucracy’s regulatory clutches.

So, what are some of the regulations coming out of our all-knowing, far-sighted, disinterested national government? Here’s a recent doozie: the U.S. Department of Labor wants to prevent kids from being exposed to “farm-related safety hazards,” and is basically barring youths from any sort of employment in the agriculture industry. It’s so ill-thought out, it’s mind-boggling.

Let's look at some of these "particularly hazardous" provisions. According to the proposed rules, it's okay to hire the 15-year-old neighbor kid as long as he doesn't:

  • -Work on a roof, scaffold, or anything more than 6 feet high
  • -Operate any power driven machine (unless he's enrolled in a state-sanctioned vocational education class and has proper certifications and has passed documented and filed written exams)
  • -Drive my tractor
  • -Hook my tractor up to any implement
  • -Ride as a passenger in my tractor (unless equipped with seatbelt and separate passenger seat)
  • -Work in my corral with any un-castrated male livestock older than six months
  • -Cut down trees (of any diameter)
  • -Attend a livestock auction
  • -Move meat in and out of our freezers
  • -Put out ant or rodent poison
  • -Work inside our hay barn
  • -Brand, ride horses, catch chickens, or doctor injured animals

Maybe I'm cranky, but that pretty well puts him out of commission as far as my business is concerned. Weed pulling might be allowed (weed eaters are out, remember "power driven"?), but my dangerous livestock lurks nearby and frankly I'd rather they did the weed eating.

Folks, this is absurdly, radically out of control. Can you imagine Abraham Lincoln coming of age under the paternalist aegis of the Department of Labor? Do we think for one moment that NIOSH standards allow for rail-splitting? George Washington might have felled a cherry tree, but his employer would have paid handsomely for the infraction under the Fair Labor and Standards Act. The young Thomas Jefferson would have been kept safely out of harm's way under Hazardous Operation 13, which precludes anyone under sixteen from "planting, cultivating, topping, harvesting, baling, barning, and curing of tobacco."

Of course, nobody wants young people working in dangerous conditions, and a ‘cost v. benefit analysis’ sounds cold when there is even one potential death on the line, but the federal government needs to get something through its thick skull: Life is replete with risk, and we all make choices. We could bring the number of youth accident-related deaths down to zero by putting our kids inside plastic bubbles, I suppose. Hey, forget just the kids—why don’t we all spend our entire lives in plastic bubbles?

Did the Department of Labor pause to consider the potential repercussions of its new rules? If kids can’t earn money and learn valuable skills by working after school on their uncle’s farm or accompanying their veterinarian-mom to a neighbor’s ranch, what are their alternative opportunities? Who is going to do those jobs instead? Is this going to damage local economies and the institution of the family farm?

 Hello, over-regulatory nanny-state; farewell, American self-reliance and prosperity.