What are today’s child labor laws?

Just because the proposed child labor laws have been dropped doesn’t mean you should forget about it. There are current laws that govern youth in agriculture. We’ll do our best to explain, with out all of the government speak.

Last post we talked about how the parental exemption is still in force. Which means these rules don’t apply to children working for their parents. But the previously raised questions regarding additional family members and the legal structure of the business are still valid.

I wish I had more explanation to offer around those gray areas…

Secondly, these rules are only enforced in for-hire situations where there is an employer/employee relationship. For that reason 4-H and FFA programs are exempt. They are teaching programs, not employer situations which means they are not regulated by the Department of Labor.

So what does that mean? Say you pay (hire) your neighbor’s 14-year-old child (under 16) to help on your farm.

What can they do?

There is a list of approved tasks for children (ages 14 and 15), which includes stuff like mowing lawns, milking cows, operating a tractor 20 PTO horsepower or less, fixing fence, loading hay bales on a wagon and elevator. Among others. But that gives you a general idea.

The bigger question: what’s NOT allowed?

1. Operating a tractor over 20 PTO horsepower, which includes connecting or disconnecting any implements

2. Operating or assisting in the operation of:

  • corn picker
  • cotton picker
  • grain combine
  • hay mower
  • forage harvester
  • hay baler
  • potato digger
  • mobile pea viner
  • feed grinder
  • crop dryer
  • forage blower
  • auger conveyor
  • the unloading mechanism of a nongravity-type self unloading wagon or trailer (whew, did you get all that?)
  • power post-hole digger
  • power post driver
  • nonwalking rotary tiller
  • trecher or earthmoving equipment
  • forklift
  • potato combine
  • power driven circular, band, or chain saw

3. Working in a yard, pen, or stall occupied by:

  • a bull, boar, or stud horse maintained for breeding purposes
  • a sow with suckling pigs
  • a cow with newborn calf (with umbilical cord present)

5. Conduct felling, bucking, skidding, loading, or unloading timber with a butt diameter of more than 6 inches

6. Work from a ladder or scaffold over 20 feet (includes painting, repairing, building, pruning, picking, etc)

7. Transport passengers in a bus, truck, or automobile – or ride as a passenger or helper on a tractor

8. Work inside fruit, forage, or grain storage designed to retain oxygen deficient or toxic atmosphere

  • an upright silo within two weeks after silage has been added or when a top unloading device is in operating position
  • a manure pit
  • horizontal silo when operator a tractor for packing purposes

9. Handle, apply, or be in any sort of contact with chemicals with the word “poison” and the “skull and cross bones” or the word “warning” on the label

10. Handle or use a blasting agent such as dynamite, black powder, sensitized ammonium nitrate, blasting caps, and primer cord

11. Transport, transfer, or apply anhydrous ammonia

The good news:

Certified training courses exist for 14 and 15 year olds. The 20+ hour course provides training on all of the restricted tasks above. If a youth passes a certified training course they can legally do those tasks on the farm where they work. So send your 14-year-old neighbor through the class, and they can do a lot more to help you.


You knew it was coming, right?!

These courses are few and far between. When I asked for a website or contact information that would provide class information on a local level for the entire nation… I got blank stares.

It doesn’t exist. And a class may not even be offered in your area.

The only way for you to find out if there is a class in your area is to research. The best places to start would be your local FFA advisor and your county Extension Office.

Why are they so hard to find? They’re time consuming. It’s 20+ hours of course work plus additional months of planning and preparation for the instructor. Not to mention I haven’t been able to figure out if there is any funding for classes at a local level.

If a class is not offered in your area, and you’re interested in getting one started you can contact Farm Safety 4 Just Kids for help finding additional resources.

Farm Safety 4 Just Kids

Written by Tracy Schlater, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids marketing director.
Must be 18-years-old to participate. 

About Farm Safety For Just Kids

Farm Safety For Just Kids is a non-profit organization devoted to promoting a safe farm environment to prevent health hazards, injuries, and fatalities to rural children and youth. We produce and distribute educational materials addressing various dangers commonly found in the rural environment. Farm Safety For Just Kids is supported by a chapter network of grassroots volunteers located throughout the United States and Canada. The organization also has part-time outreach coordinators in several states. Chapters, outreach coordinators, and volunteers conduct educational programs to raise awareness about safety and health issues affecting their communities.
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