[from NCL's 2010 Five Worst Jobs for Teens]
Farms look safe but they are actually very dangerous workplaces. Agriculture is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous industries in America. In its 2008 edition of Injury Facts, The National Safety Council ranked it as the most dangerous industry with 28.7 deaths per 100,000 adult workers. According to Kansas State University (KSU) in 2007, there were 715 deaths on farms involving workers of all ages. More than 80,000 workers suffered disabling injuries. Working with livestock and farm machinery caused most of the injuries and tractors caused most of the deaths, according to John Slocombe, an extension farm safety specialist at KSU.
Agriculture poses dangers for teens as well. According NIOSH, between 1995 and 2002, an estimated 907 youth died on American farms. Between 1992 and 2000, more than four in 10 work-related fatalities of young workers occurred on farms. Half of the fatalities in agriculture involved youth under age 15. For workers 15 to 17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces, according to U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2006, an estimated 5,800 children and adolescents were injured while performing farm work. Every summer young farmworkers are run over or lose limbs to tractors and machinery. Heat stress and pesticides pose grave dangers. Riding in open pickups is another danger on farms.
These recent injuries and fatalities also highlight the danger of agricultural work:
While many farm deaths occur to the children of farmers on their parents’ farms, the same dangers that imperil the sons and daughters of farmers endanger hired farmworkers.
Loopholes in current child labor law allow children to work in agriculture at younger ages than children can work in other industries. It is legal in many states for a 12-year-old to work all day under the hot summer sun with tractors and pickup trucks dangerously criss-crossing the fields, but that same 12-year-old could not be hired to make copies in an air-conditioned office building. Because of the labor law exemptions, large numbers of 12- and 13-year-olds—usually the sons and daughters of migrant and seasonal farmworkers—can be found working in the fields in the United States.
Farmworker advocates believe that an estimated 400,000 youth under 16 help harvest our nation’s crops each year, and the exemptions allow even younger kids to work legally on very small farms. Field investigations by the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, a member of Child Labor Coalition, have found children working in the fields at the age of 9 and 10. NCL and the Child Labor Coalition believe the long hours of farm work for children under 14 is too deleterious to their health, education, and well-being to be allowed and we are supporting legislative efforts that would apply child labor age restrictions to all industries, including agriculture.
On May 5, 2010, Human Rights Watch released “Fields of Peril—Child Labor in U.S. Agriculture”, the results of a year-long investigation. The report details the arduous work and harsh conditions that many youths who work in farm work are subjected to:
Exemptions in the law also allow teens working on farms to perform tasks deemed hazardous in other industries when they are only 16—as opposed to 18 for the other industries. For example, a worker must be 18 to drive a forklift at retail warehouse but a 16-year-old is legally allowed to drive a forklift at an agricultural processing facility. NCL does not believe such exemptions are justified. Driving a forklift is a very dangerous activity and should not be undertaken by minors.
In agriculture, 16- and 17-year-olds can work inside fruit, forage or grain storage units, which kill workers every year in suffocation accidents; they can also operate dangerous equipment like corn pickers, hay mowers, feed grinders, power post hole diggers, auger conveyors and power saws. NCL and the Child Labor Coalition, which it coordinates, are working to eliminate unjustified exemptions to U.S. Department of Labor safety restrictions based on age.
According to SafeKids USA, only about 5 percent of farms in the United States are covered by safety regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Children working on family farms with their parents are not protected by safety laws.