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.”