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Published May 07, 2012, 08:31 AM

Keep focus on child safety on farms

Ten years ago, if a young athlete got whacked on the head on the playing field, he or she would have sat for awhile — then run back into the game. Not anymore. The news about concussions has shown the importance of rest. Today, that injured athlete likely wouldn’t play again until a doctor gave the OK. Child labor advocates, take note.

By: Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, Agweek

Ten years ago, if a young athlete got whacked on the head on the playing field, he or she would have sat for awhile — then run back into the game.

Not anymore. The news about concussions has shown the importance of rest. Today, that injured athlete likely wouldn’t play again until a doctor gave the OK.

Child labor advocates, take note.

Disappointment

The Obama administration wisely backed off its proposal recently to keep farm children off of tractors and out of barns. Farm groups and many others rejoiced, but there were those who were dismayed:

“Child labor groups say they are stunned and disappointed the Obama administration is backing off a plan that would have prevented children from working on the most dangerous farm jobs,” The Associated Press reported.

“Reid Maki, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition, said the Labor Department’s sudden decision . . . to withdraw the proposed rules means more children will die in farm accidents that could have been prevented. . . .

“Three-quarters of working children younger than 16 who died of work-related injuries in 2010 were in agriculture, according to the Child Labor Coalition.”

You know something? Maki has a point. The Labor Department’s decision does mean more children will die, and those who called for the department’s retreat shouldn’t forget it.

In December, a Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald editorial weighed in on the labor issue, asking the Labor Department to accept the time-honored traditions of growing up on a farm. “If farm families believe the benefits far outweigh the risks, then the government should honor farmers’ historic place in society, and back off,” So, now that the decision has been made, let’s see if there might be common ground between the two extremes.

In December, the Obama administration and the Labor Department in effect tried to make farm childhoods completely safe. That was an overreach, as the outcry proved; and the department smartly retreated.

Making things safer

But how about trying to make farm childhoods safer than they are today?

Not completely safe. Safer.

That’s exactly what youth sports have done where the vital matter of concussion is concerned. In reacting to the news about concussions, society didn’t ban youth sports. That would have been too great a loss.

Instead, authorities reacted much more sensibly by modifying youth sports to improve parents, coaches and players’ responses to concussions. That change is ongoing, and the sports are likely to become safer still.

Society did the same thing in the matter of teen drivers licenses. The old way gave too much responsibility to young drivers too soon, and too many accidents resulted.

The new way eases young people much more gradually into driving. The teens still get licenses, and they still are trained behind the wheel.

But the accident rates have gone meaningfully down.

Are there training, equipment or other cost-effective ways to improve safety on farms?

That’s where child safety advocates should turn their attention next. The American Farm Bureau Federation and other recent opponents probably will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them when they do.

This article is from the Grand Forks Herald. The Grand Forks Herald and Agweek are both owned by Forum Communications.

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