Farm Employee Management: Farm Safety and Hiring Youth on the Farm

Contributed by Melissa O’Rourke, B.S., M.A., J.D. Farm & Agribusiness Management Specialist, Iowa State University Extension & Outreach,

MelissaORourke2-Nov2011At this writing (May 2014) summer is approaching and many farm and other agribusiness operations will consider hiring youth for summer employment.  This makes it a particularly good time to review some guidelines related to hiring young people on the farm.  This article will outline a few guidelines, and also provide some web-based resources with answers to other questions.

We sometimes see tragic accidents—deaths and serious injuries— involving young farm workers.  These kinds of deaths and injuries to young people served as the impetus for regulators to propose strengthening child labor rules related to farm employment in 2011.  However, the US Department of Labor (“DOL”) abandoned proposed regulations in favor of increased farm safety programs.

The proposed regulations would not have applied to children working on farms owned by their parents under what is known as the “parental exemption” which allows children of any age who are employed by their parent, or a person standing in the place of a parent, to perform any job on a farm owned or operated by their parent or such person standing in the place of a parent. However, the proposals would have had other impacts in non-family farm employment situations, such as prohibiting youth (in all employment) from using cellphones or other electronic devices while operating power-driven equipment. Children under the age of 16 would have been prohibited from operating almost all power-driven equipment with limited exemptions for student learners.  After taking input, the DOL issued a statement regarding withdrawal of the proposals noting that the “administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations.”  Rather than adopting the proposed regulations, the DOL sought to work with rural stakeholders to develop educational programs to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.

The need for continued vigilance and enhanced farm safety programs is undisputed. In the meantime – and particularly because of significant media attention given to this issue – farm producers have questions regarding the current rules for youth employment in farm and other ag-related occupations.

The basic guidelines include the following:

  • Youths of any age may work at any time in any job on a farm owned or operated by their parents.
  • Youths ages 16 and above may work in any farm job at any time.
  • Youths aged 14 and 15 may work outside school hours in jobs not declared hazardous by the DOL.
  • Youths 12 and 13 years of age may work outside of school hours in non-hazardous jobs on farms that also employ their parent(s) or with written parental consent.
  • Youths under 12 years of age may work outside of school hours in non-hazardous jobs with parental consent, but only on farms where none of the employees are subject to the minimum wage requirements of the FLSA – meaning small farms.
  • Local youths aged 10 and 11 may hand harvest short-season crops outside school hours for no more than 8 weeks between June 1 and October 15 if the employer has obtained special waivers from the DOL.

Again, minors under the age of 16 may not work in hazardous occupations in agriculture unless the youth is employed on a farm owned or operated by the parents. Also, 14- and 15-year old student learners enrolled in vocational agricultural programs are exempt from certain hazardous occupation prohibitions when certain requirements are met; and minors aged 14 and 15 who hold certificates of completion of training under a 4-H or vocational agriculture training program may work outside school hours on certain equipment for which they have been trained.

Hazardous occupations in agriculture would include the following particular examples:

  • Operating a tractor of over 20 PTO horsepower, or connecting or disconnecting an implement or any of its parts to or from such a tractor;
  • Operating or working with a corn picker, grain combine, hay mower, forage harvester, hay baler, potato digger, feed grinder, crop dryer, forage blower, auger conveyor, unloading mechanism of a nongravity-type self-unloading wagon or trailer, power post-hole digger, power post driver, or nonwalking-type rotary tiller;
  • Operating or working with a trencher or earthmoving equipment, fork lift, potato combine, or power-driven circular, band or chain saw;
  • Working in a yard, pen, or stall occupied by a bull, boar, or stud horse maintained for breeding purposes; a sow with suckling pigs; or a cow with a newborn calf (with umbilical cord present);
  • Felling, buckling, skidding, loading, or unloading timber with a butt diameter or more than 6 inches;
  • Working from a ladder or scaffold at a height of over 20 feet;
  • Driving a bus, truck or automobile to transport passengers, or riding on a tractor as a passenger or helper;
  • Working inside: a fruit, forage, or grain storage designed to retain an oxygen-deficient or toxic atmosphere; an upright silo within 2 weeks after silage has been added or when a top unloading device is in operating position; a manure pit; or a horizontal silo while operating a tractor for packing purposes;
  • Handling or applying toxic agricultural chemical identified by the words “danger,” “poison,” or “warning” or a skull and crossbones on the label;
  • Handling or using explosives; and
  • Transporting, transferring, or applying anhydrous ammonia.

The examples summarized above are based on federal regulations, but there may also be applicable state rules. Depending on the state where the youth employment takes place, those state rules should be consulted, and the law setting the most stringent standard (either state or federal) must be observed.

It is impossible to over-emphasize farm safety for all workers, both youth and adults. Producers should conduct farm safety audits and institute an on-going farm safety education program. Additionally, producers should consult with their own legal counsel for specific advice on any employment or liability questions that may arise, and consult with their insurance professionals to assure that adequate liability coverage is maintained for the operation.

Finally, here are some web-based resources with more information about hiring youth on the farm:

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An agricultural economics and business website.

Farm Employee Management: New Employee Orientation

Contributed by Melissa O’Rourke, B.S., M.A., J.D. Farm & Agribusiness Management Specialist, Iowa State University Extension & Outreach,

MelissaORourke2-Nov2011You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Employee orientation is the employer’s opportunity to make good first impressions on the new employee that set the tone for the employment relationship. Unfortunately, some farm employers neglect this vital step.

All employees need orientation and training as they begin new employment. While training is an ongoing process that continues throughout employment, the orientation phase begins with the first day on the job and is generally completed within the first week or so of employment. Another article in my Farm Employee Management series provided tips and guidelines for getting the new farm employee off to a good start on the first day of employment. (See “Getting the New Employee Off to a Good Start on Day One”). That first day on the job will fly by quickly. The smart farm employer will have a plan in place for employee orientation and training. This article outlines the purposes and key components of an employee orientation program.

Purposes of Farm Employee Orientation

Employee orientation helps employees become socialized to your farm business. This process of socialization helps to reduce a new employee’s natural anxiety that comes with starting any new job. A new employee who becomes comfortable in the workplace is more likely to develop and maintain a positive attitude toward the job and the employer. That positive attitude translates into earlier and higher productivity. When the new worker is assisted in becoming quickly familiar with the work environment, the stress level decreases and the individual is better able to learn new job duties, skills and expectations. This socialization aspect of employee orientation prepares a new worker for job training. If a new employee is relieved of general stress and worry, that individual is able to concentrate and absorb substantive information about new job assignments and tasks.

Planning and Content of Orientation Program

If your farm has not previously conducted an employee orientation program, planning may seem like an overwhelming task. One way to think about orientation is to sit down with current employees and ask for input. Ask current employees what they wish they had been told when they first started working at your farm. Find out what they view as important information for newcomers. Every farm business is different, but some possible content areas to consider including the following:

Background and Overview of Your Farm: Provide new employees with your farm’s story – the history and development of the farm business. This should include information about key people in the farm’s history as well as present-day leadership. Share your farm’s mission statement, goals and objectives. While a farm tour may have been part of the pre-employment process, this should be repeated, perhaps over a series of days as the new employee is introduced to the layout of facilities, fields and operations. Throughout the process, emphasize the role and importance of employees in the farm’s success.

Employee Policies: Even the smallest farm should consider development of an employee handbook or policy document. (See “Do We Need an Employee Handbook?” in the Farm Employee Management series). As part of the employee orientation process, all key policies, compensation and benefits information should be reviewed. Do not just present the new employee stacks of documents and instructions to read. Orientation is the employer’s opportunity to review the policies, explain rationale and provide opportunities for questions or clarification.

Introductions: While the new employee may have been introduced to some individuals during the pre-employment process, introductions should be repeated. Name badges (or embroidered shirts/apparel) can be very helpful in the farm workplace. Provide the new employee with an organizational chart or list of names. Include names of people who visit the farm on a regular basis such as drivers, veterinarians, suppliers, service personnel, neighbors or relatives.

Job Duty Information: While a position description was most likely discussed during the employment process, this is a key part of the new employee orientation phase. Provide the written position description, and use it as a guide to discuss specific tasks including training that will be provided to the new employee. Emphasize basic safety and indicate the importance of ongoing safety training and awareness. Help a new employee to understand the relationship and importance of the position to other jobs and functions on the farm.

Who Should Conduct New Employee Orientation?

To assure a consistent message to new employees, it is useful to have the same person conduct orientation. However, identifying other supervisors or more experienced co-workers to participate in the process will also assist in the socialization aspect of orientation. All members of the orientation team should be those who will share a positive attitude with the new employee. Especially during the early days of employment, the new worker needs to hear constructive, upbeat messages geared toward making those good, early impressions.

A well-planned orientation program takes an investment of time and effort on the part of the farm employer. Providing a positive orientation experience during the early days of employment sets the stage for a satisfying, long-term employment relationship on your farm.

As always, feel free to contact me with any of your farm employee management questions.

Ag Decision Maker (AgDM) 

An agricultural economics and business website.

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