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127 Groups Ask EPA Not to Reverse Ban on Pesticide Application by Children

Dear Administrator Pruitt:

The undersigned organizations write to oppose any changes by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to the requirements in the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (“WPS”) and Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule (CPA).

Over 15 years ago, an EPA report stated that “pesticide poisoning in the United States remains under-recognized and under-treated…despite the ubiquity of pesticides in our homes, workplaces, and communities, and despite the considerable potential for pesticide-related illnesses and injury.” Farmworkers have one of the highest rates of chemical exposures among U.S. workers and they suffer acute pesticide poisoning every year through occupational exposures and pesticide drift. Studies have shown that agricultural workers suffer serious short- and long-term health effects from exposure to pesticides. The WPS and CPA rules provide vital protections from exposure to toxic pesticides for hired farmworkers, pesticide applicators, their families and the general public in communities across the United States. In revising these rules, the EPA recognized that the weight of evidence suggests that the new requirements, “will result in long-term health benefits to agricultural workers, pesticide handlers,” and “to certified and noncertified applicators, as well as to the public and the environment.”

After more than a decade of stakeholder input and analysis, the EPA revised the WPS and CPA rule to prevent injury and illness to the children, women and men who work around pesticides in agriculture, or who come into contact with pesticides in other settings. EPA found that the new safeguards are necessary to address the known dangers associated with pesticide use. The WPS applies to hired workers and pesticide handlers who labor in farms, fields, nurseries, greenhouses and forests. The CPA rule governs the training and certification requirements of workers who apply Restricted Use Pesticides (“RUPs”) in a variety of settings, including homes, schools, hospitals, as well as agricultural and industrial establishments. RUPs are some of the most toxic and dangerous pesticides on the market.

 

We are concerned that the EPA may weaken critical safeguards meant to protect agricultural workers, the public, and the environment. Among the many important provisions in the rules, the Agency has stated its intent to reconsider the minimum age protections that prohibit children from applying pesticides, the right of farmworkers to access pesticide application information through a designated representative, and protections for bystanders through “application exclusion zones,” which require that an applicator suspend pesticide application if “an unprotected/non-trained person” enters the area around the application equipment.

Undermining these important protections cannot be justified. We urge you to preserve the existing protections and to move forward with full implementation and enforcement.

Respectfully,

127 child, faith, agricultural, health, labor, human rights, consumer and environmental groups, including the Child Labor Coalition have signed the letter.

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DOL Withdraws Much-Needed Child Safety Protections for Children Working for Wages on Farms

The safety of child workers on farms was dealt a harsh blow April 19th when the Obama administration unexpectedly announced that it was withdrawing long-awaited occupational child safety rules for agriculture. The National Consumers League (NCL) and the Child Labor Coalition, which NCL co-chairs, has been a leader in the fight for protections against hazardous work in agriculture—well known among safety experts as the most dangerous industry that large numbers of children are allowed to work in.

Each year, 85 to 100 youth die on farms, mostly through accidents on family farms.  In 2010, twelve of the 16 children killed while working for wages died performing agricultural work. “There are specific jobs on farms that can be incredibly dangerous for children and teens,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director and the co-chair of the CLC. “The Department of Labor rules addressed those dangerous farm tasks.”

The proposed agricultural rules, called hazardous occupations orders, had not been updated by the Department of Labor for more than four decades. They specifically targeted the farm jobs that kill the most workers: driving tractors, handling stressed or enraged livestock, working from heights, and laboring in grain facilities. There were 15 rules in all.

Children 14 and 15 would still be allowed to drive a tractor but they would be required to take a comprehensive safety course instead of the superficial course current regulations allow. They would not be allowed to castrate or brand animals or work from heights above six feet because of the dangers posed by falls.

“They are long over-due, badly needed protections,” said Sally Greenberg. “These rules emanated from painstaking research conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health that tracked injuries and fatalities among youth workers. We estimate these common sense rules would have saved 50-100 children over the next decade.”

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Child Labor Coalition: U.S. should implement proposed farm safety rules for children [Press Release]

Legislation by Senators Thune and Moran May Endanger Children Working on Farms

Washington, DC–Legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress in March 2012 to block proposed safety rules for child farmworkers will endanger children who work on farms, said advocates from the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), representing more than two dozen organizations concerned with protecting working youth. The group called on the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to implement immediately its proposed updates to safety rules listing dangerous agricultural tasks that are off limits to hired child farmworkers.

“The Department of Labor’s proposed safety rules are rooted in expert research and designed to protect child farmworkers,” said Sally Greenberg, the executive director of the National Consumers League and the co-chair of the CLC. “Agriculture has long been exempt from many child labor and occupational safety protections granted to all other industries. As new farm equipment is developed and our knowledge of pesticides and other risks to children evolve, it only makes sense to update the list of tasks that employers should not be allowed to hire children to do.”

The 15 proposed rules—known as “hazardous occupation orders”—would, for the first time in decades, update the list of farm tasks considered too dangerous for children under age 16 working for hire. New restrictions would include operating certain heavy machinery, working in silos and grain storage facilities, and handling pesticides.

Bill S. 2221, introduced on March 21 by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), would stop the Labor Department from issuing the occupational child safety rules. A version was introduced March 7 in the House (H.R. 4157) by Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), with the misleading title, “Preserving America’s Family Farms Act.”

The Department of Labor has long held responsibility for restricting employers from hiring children to do tasks that are considered hazardous. In agriculture, those restrictions lift at age 16; while in all other jobs, hazardous work cannot be done until age 18. The rules do not apply to children working on farms owned or operated by their parents, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said at a House hearing recently that she intends to expand the “parental exemption” to allow children to work without safety restriction on farms owned by other relatives.

Agricultural exemptions to U.S. child labor law allow children to work for hire at age 12 on any farm with their parents’ consent. There is no minimum age for children to work on small farms.

Agriculture is the most dangerous industry open to children. Three quarters of working children under age 16 who died from work-related injuries in 2010 worked in agriculture. Thousands more are injured each year. Agricultural injuries tend to be much more severe than other youth injuries according to a new study in the April 2012 edition of the journal Pediatrics, resulting in a hospitalization rate that is 10 times as high as that in all other industries.

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AFOP: Withdrawal of the DOL Rules Endangers Farmworker Children

[Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs Press Release]

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Withdrawal of the DOL Rules Endangers Farmworker Children

Administration Pulls Protections for Children Employed in Agriculture

April 28, 2012—Washington, D.C.—Last night the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a press release announcing the Obama Administration would be withdrawing the proposed updates to the Hazardous Orders to protect children under the age of 16 who are hired on farms.  The rules would have restricted farmworker children, aged 12 through 15, from performing work that data has shown to be especially dangerous.

“We are profoundly disappointed the Administration will not be pursuing the proposed protections for children employed in agriculture,” said David Strauss, Executive Director of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP). “These were common sense protections  that would have saved many children’s lives.”

The exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 protects the tradition of children working on their parents’ farm. In a factsheet released by the DOL, “Myth vs. Fact,” it was stated that these agricultural protections would only apply to those children involved in an employer/employee relationship. Despite this fact, in the press release issued by the DOL, it stated the withdrawal “was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms.”

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