OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - From tending cattle to driving tractors or ATVs, 15-year-old Taylor Muller and her three younger brothers have always done what they could to help the family's farming business.
"Most kids my age don't even have jobs," said Taylor, who assists her father at one southwest Oklahoma farm and her grandparents at another. "We already know what hard work is."
Many other young kids won't be allowed to do those kinds of chores if the U.S. Labor Department approves new rules on children working in agriculture. While the Mullers would likely be exempt because it's a family business, the proposed rules would prohibit most children under age 16 from driving tractors, using power equipment, working with livestock in certain circumstances and doing work at heights over 6 feet.
Federal officials say the rules are needed because farming is one of the nation's most dangerous occupations, but many farmers say children learn important life lessons and might develop an interest in agriculture by working on farms or ranches.
Muller's dad, Matt, says he worries about what the new rules might mean for the future of farming.
"It's very disheartening to me," he said. "Farming is not just a business. It's a way of life." Michael Hancock, the assistant administrator for policy at the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, said the rules covering
child farm workers haven't been updated in more than 40 years and that changes are needed to address the dangers of working with tractors and other large farm machines. Farming, he said, is "the single-most hazardous occupation, as measured by fatalities, for children."
Nearly 29 out of every 100,000 farm workers in the U.S. die on the job, according to the National Safety Council. Among workers ages 15 to 24, the rate is about 21 deaths per 100,000 workers. Statistics for workers younger than 15 aren't available because there isn't enough data on them.