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More US Child Workers Die in Agriculture Than in Any Other Industry

New US Government Report Highlights Dangers Caused by Weak Child Labor Laws

By Margaret Wurth

 

More than half of work-related deaths among children in the US occur in agriculture, according to a new US government report published this week. This happens despite the fact that farms employ less than six percent of child workers, highlighting the devastating consequences of weak laws and regulations that don’t properly protect child farmworkers.

The report was prepared by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) at the request of congressional representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard from California and Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut.

My colleagues and I have interviewed hundreds of child farmworkers in the US in recent years. They’ve told us harrowing stories of working long hours in extreme heat, using sharp tools and heavy machinery, and climbing to dangerous heights with nothing to protect them from falling. Many are exposed to toxic pesticides, and on tobacco farms, children face the added risk of being exposed to nicotine, a neurotoxin.

Under federal labor law, children at the age of 12 can legally work unlimited hours on farms of any size with parental permission, as long as they don’t miss school. There is no minimum age for children to work on small farms or family farms. By law, children working in agriculture can do jobs at age 16 that health and safety experts deem particularly hazardous. In all other sectors, workers must be 18 to do hazardous work.  

The report clearly shows that these gaps in laws designed to protect young workers leave child farmworkers vulnerable to serious injuries and death.… Read the rest

New GAO Report Raises Concern over the Health and Safety of Child Farmworkers in the United States

 For immediate release: December 6, 2018

Contact: Reid Maki, Child Labor Coalition, (202) 207-2820, reidm@nclnet.org 

 

Washington, DC–In the wake of a new child labor report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) joins Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in voicing concern for the health and safety of 2.5 million U.S. children who work for wages, particularly those who toil in sectors like agriculture with elevated injury and fatality rates.

“The scourge of child labor still haunts America,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League and a co-chair of the CLC.

The new report “Working Children: Federal Injury Data and Compliance Strategies Could Be Strengthened” (November 2018) updates a 2002 GAO report on child labor in the United States. Earlier this week, the GAO issued the updated report, which had been requested by Reps. Roybal-Allard and DeLauro last year. Despite the difference of 16 years, the two reports reached similar conclusions, calling for better data. The new report also called for better coordination between the Wage and Hour Division and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration—both entities at the Department of Labor—to enforce child labor laws.

The GAO found that while fewer than 5.5 percent of working children in the United States toiled on farms, the agricultural sector accounted for more than 50 percent of child labor fatalities. In the years 2003 to 2016, 237 children died in farm-related work accidents, representing four times the number of deaths of any other sector (construction and mining had 59 over the 14 year period).

“The GAO report’s findings are damning,” said Roybal-Allard and Rep. DeLauro in a joint statement. “This report confirms that child labor is contributing to a devastating amount of fatalities in the United States—disproportionately so in the agricultural sector. In that industry, kids are often exposes exposed to dangerous pesticides, heavy machinery, and extreme heat, and they are being killed as a result. That is unacceptable.”

The study examined recent data on children at work as well as child work fatalities and injuries and found significant data gaps and misaligned data. A data survey pilot project that sought improved data on workers ignored children entirely; it excluded “household children and working children on farms employing 10 or fewer workers,” noted the report’s authors, who concluded “DOL is missing opportunities to more accurately quantify injuries and illnesses to children, which could better inform its compliance and enforcement efforts.”

“The updated GAO report supports what child advocates have been seeing on the ground: the number of working children in the US has been on the rise since 2011, while child labor continues to decrease around the world,” says Norma Flores Lopez, chair of the CLC’s Domestic Issues Committee. “American working children are inadequately protected while working in dangerous—sometimes fatal—industries, including agriculture.  The U.S. Department of Labor must take immediate action to better protect our children by implementing the report’s recommendations. By providing equal protections for all working children, the US DOL can improve its effectiveness in enforcing child labor laws and keep children safe.”

“The Child Labor Coalition has worked for nearly 30 years to safeguard child workers on farms,” said Reid Maki, director of child labor advocacy for NCL and coordinator of the CLC.  “The United States has had glaringly weak agricultural child labor laws since the enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act in the late 1930s. We allow children as young as 12 to work unlimited hours in agriculture, despite its known dangers.”

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How are teens dying and getting injured at work?

Transportation accidents, broadly defined to include almost any moving vehicle, killed 19 of the 22 teens under 18 in the latest BLS Fatal Occupational Injuries report covering 2014. All eight of the youth workers who died under 16 in 2014 died in transportation accidents. One of these accidents involved transportation by horses, one involved a boat, three were on roadways, and three were off roadways.

Of the 14 deaths of teenagers aged 16- and 17 years old, 11 were in transportation accidents. Five of these were roadway accidents, three were non-roadway accidents, and one was in a boat. In this age group, one teen died by fire or ignition of vapors/gases.

Oddly, the percentage of transportation accidents that killed 18- and 19-year-old workers was much lower—only half (killing 21 of 42.) “Contact with objects and equipment” (mostly being struck) killed nine of the remaining 21 and “exposure to harmful substances or environments” killed seven. It is important to note this data does not include farm children who die while doing non-paid work on farms for their parents.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to accidents both in normal life and at work. Accidents are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 19. In fact, more youth between 10 and 19 die from injuries than die from all other causes combined.

Teen workers are killed in a shocking variety of ways:

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics for all (including adult) workers suggests that male workers are much more at risk than female.… Read the rest

Tragic Story of Deaths in a Grain Bin Highlights the Need for Increased Safeguards and Larger Fines

Twenty-five to 30 kids a year die at work. Through its advocacy and co-chairmanship of the Child Labor Coalition, the National Consumers League (NCL) has worked to reduce that number over the years. Each spring, NCL produces a report called “The Five Most Dangerous for Teens.” For several years, we worked to help enact proposed rules to protect kids working in agriculture. Last April, working through the CLC and its members we helped organize a press conference to highlight the dangers that young workers can encounter while working on farms and agricultural facilities.

Unfortunately, the organized farm lobby succeeded in forcing the Obama administration to withdraw the youth farm safety rules—a decision that we estimate will lead to the unnecessary deaths of 50 to 100 youth working on farms over the next decade.

This week, we heard the sobering story on National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting System’s News Hour each featured in-depth stories about a particularly lethal type of agricultural work: labor in grain silo facilities, which in a typical year kills 15 or more workers. According to recent data, 20 percent of the victims of grain engulfments are young workers.

NPR and PBS worked with the Center for Public Integrity, highlighting a terrible tragedy in Mount Carroll, Illinois nearly three years ago. Two teens, “running down the corn,” were engulfed by grain and killed while working in a silo: 14-year-old Wyatt Whitebread and 19-year-old Alex Pacas. Will Piper, a 20-year-old co-worker, barely escaped with his life because someone threw him a bucket that he was able to put over his head. The bucket prevented the flowing grain from asphyxiating him. Today, Piper lives in guilt because he found the job that killed his best friend Alex.

Among the worst aspects of the Whitebread-Pacas accidentally deaths, which we highlighted in our April 2012 press conference, are the facts that Wyatt, at 14, was too young to be doing such dangerous work. He and Alex also should have been wearing safety harnesses as they walked on top of the crusty grain trying to loosen it. The facility possessed the mandatory harnesses that would have saved the boys lives, but did instruct or compel the teens to wear them.

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