WASHINGTON, March 26, 2014 - USDA is funding a multi-institutional grant project to develop a national clearinghouse for a standardized farm safety and health curriculum for young workers, after the Labor Department last year withdrew a set of proposed regulations amid heavy criticism.

Participants in the project, Safety in Agriculture for Youth (SAY), include Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University, the University of Kentucky, Utah State University and CareerSafe LLC. They expect to come up with a rubric, or a set of instructions for safety classes, by this summer. The project’s steering committee include representatives from the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union.

The project was launched last September, after the Labor Department’s 2011 attempt to overhaul rules for children working in agriculture attracted heavy criticism from the farm community, which said the regulations would affect standard farm chores and potentially, participation in some FFA projects. The Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted at the time that the fatality rate for agricultural workers 15-17 is more than four times greater than other workers in that age range. The most common cause of agricultural deaths among young workers is farm machinery, with tractors involved in over half of the fatalities.

The rules would have limited contact with tractors of any size for hired workers below the age of 16, and prohibited work inside any grain storage container or at heights greater than six feet. Additionally, anyone under 18 couldn’t work in any grain elevator, bin or silo, or in a feed lot, stockyard or at a livestock auction. The Labor Department withdrew the rule in April of 2012.

Dennis Murphy, principal investigator for the SAY project and a professor of Agricultural Safety and Health at Penn State, said a National Youth Safety Symposium in October will provide an opportunity to review the work of the project team. The symposium is planned to take place just before the National FFA convention in Kentucky.

“There are standards out there, but there has never been the coordinated approach that we’re trying to take through this project,” Murphy said. Additionally, the project is aimed at satisfying content standards developed by the National Council for Agricultural Education. Murphy believes current agricultural safety curriculums have too many “gaps,” that don’t adequately address animal, dust, gas or silo safety.

USDA is providing $600,000 for the project over two years. Murphy emphasized that while the funding is currently limited, but “this work needs to go on for a long time.”     

High school and college agriculture teachers will likely be first to use the rubric to measure their own curriculums, Murphy said. Once the rubric is properly established, he said parents, employers and Extension educators could also make it a useful tool. Murphy also said the project is developing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-approved, web-based safety and health training course for young farm workers. The voluntary 10-hour course is expected to be ready this fall. 


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