Recommendations to Protect Teens at Work

 What can employers do to make teen work safer?

Employers must comply with child labor laws, provide safety training to young workers, follow all mandates safety regulations, and be vigilant about providing a safe workplace and all required safety equipment. They need to encourage open dialogue about safety with young workers who might be too shy to raise concerns.

Efforts in the area of enhanced safety not only save lives, they also save companies’ bottom line. The journal Pediatrics estimates that farm injuries cost farmers $1.4 billion a year. According to Katherine Harmon, an editor at Scientific American, a recent study also found that companies that had just one safety inspection saved 26 percent on worker compensation claims on average. The average amount saved per company over a five-year period: $355,000.

What can the federal and state governments do?

The U.S. Department of Labor and state agencies must enforce the laws and conduct regular reviews to ensure that new workplace hazards are dealt with. Hazardous Orders updates need to be conducted in a timely fashion. DOL should reconsider its ill-advised decision not to reintroduce occupational protections for children in agriculture during the Obama Administration. Companies that repeatedly violate child labor laws should not have their fines reduced.

We call on President Obama to break his unfathomable promise to the agricultural lobby to never update protections for children working in agriculture.

The U.S. Department of Labor also needs to publicize its work to enforce the nation’s child labor laws—something it has backed off from in recent years.

States should resist efforts by reactionary forces to rollback child labor protections.

The President should also send the message that the U.S. respects the human rights of children by sending the Convention on the Rights of the Child to the U.S. Senate so that it can be ratified. Today, the U.S. is the only nation that has not ratified this important child rights treaty.

What can Congress do?

Existing inequities in child labor policy such as allowing agricultural workers to perform hazardous jobs at younger ages should also be remedied. Congress should act to raise the age at which children can work for wages in agriculture to the standard of other industries. Children under 14 who are not working on their parents’ farm should be prohibited from working in the fields and the Secretary of Labor should determine what agricultural tasks can safely be done by 14- and 15-year-olds.

These protections are embodied in the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act), legislation that will be introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) in every legislative session. This legislation has been endorsed by over 100 national and regional organizations, including 20 farmworker organizations in the past and has had in some sessions more than 100 House cosponsors. Sadly, congressional leaders have refused to move the bill and protect America’s most vulnerable workers.

We also hope that Congress will advance the two child labor bills banning child labor in tobacco workers previously mentioned.

It’s imperative that OSHA be given more resources. In May 2016, authors Rebecca Reindel and M.K. Fletcher of the AFL-CIO, published “OSHA Faced with Diminishing Resources in Their Efforts to keep Working People Alive,” which noted:

“Since its inception, OSHA resources have declined: federal OSHA has 300 fewer inspectors than in 1975, even though employment has nearly doubled. It would now take federal OSHA 145 years to inspect each workplace, compared with 84 years in 1992. Without inspections, there is no oversight for workplace conditions and no accountability for employers who violate the law.

Funding for workplace safety and health takes low priority. The U.S. government spends less than $4 protecting each worker from safety and health hazards on the job. OSHA’s measly budget of $553 million is constantly under attack, yet the federal government spends nearly $3 billion per year to protect fish and wildlife; $8 billion to protect the environment; $156 billion to make sure the food we eat is safe; and $585 billion on national defense.”