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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: Withdrawal of Occupational Child Safety Rules Will Risk Children’s Lives on Farms

CHILD LABOR COALITION PRESS RELEASE
For immediate release: April 30, 2012
Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820, reidm@nclnet.org

The 28 members of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) and the millions of Americans they represent warn that the Department of Labor’s recent withdrawal of occupational child safety rules for agriculture will needlessly endanger children who work for wages in agriculture.

“Agriculture is by far the most dangerous industry that large numbers of teens are allowed to work in,” said Sally Greenberg, Co-Chair of the Child Labor Coalition and the Executive Director of the National Consumers League. “Nearly 100 kids are killed on farms each year. In 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12 of the 16 children under age 16 who suffered fatal occupational injuries worked in crop production. For agricultural workers age 15 to 17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces. The Department of Labor’s sensible recommendations–based on years of research indicating the jobs in which teen injuries and deaths occur–sought to protect these hired farmworkers. Unfortunately, the proposed rules fell victim to misinformation and exaggeration from the farm lobby.”

“The U.S. Labor Department has caved in to Big Agriculture and its allies in Congress to abandon the most vulnerable working children in America,” said Zama Coursen-Neff,Deputy Children’s Rights Director at CLC member Human Rights Watch. “Instead of protecting child farmworkers, the Labor Department will look the other way when children get crushed, suffocated, and poisoned on the job.”

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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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