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NCL: Withdrawal of Proposed Occupational Child Safety Rules for Agriculture Will Endanger Children Working on Farms

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April 27, 2012
Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Washington, DC--Those of us concerned with the safety and welfare of children and teens working in agriculture are deeply disappointed by the Department of Labor’s decision to pull back on its effort to protect kids on farms. “The all-out campaign of misinformation and distortion about the Department of Labor’s long overdue and important proposal to protect children working on farms will have an impact for years to come,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director and a co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition, 28 organizations committed to protecting children from exploitative or dangerous work.

“Agriculture is by far the most dangerous industry that large numbers of teens are allowed to work in,” said Greenberg. “Nearly 100 kids are killed performing hazardous farm work each year. Many of those kids work for wages. 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 them. Unfortunately, the proposed rules fell victim to misinformation and exaggeration from groups like the National Farm Bureau and others that should know better.”

The reality is that agricultural work for teens is extremely dangerous:

  • Between 1995 and 2002, an estimated 907 youths died on American farms, well over 100 per year. (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health)
  • Last year, 12 of the 16 children under age 16 who suffered fatal occupational injuries worked in crop production. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Between 1992 and 2000, more than four in 10 work-related fatalities of young workers occurred on farms.
  • Half of the fatalities in agriculture involved youth under age 15.
  • Just this past August, Oklahoma teens Tyler Zander and Bryce Gannon, both 17, each lost a leg in a grain auger accident. This accident would have been prevented by the proposed rules.
  • For agricultural workers 15 to 17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces, according to DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics

In the U.S., children who work on their parent’s farms are exempt from child labor laws. They can perform any task at any age. Other exemptions allow children to work for wages on other farms at the age of 12—and sometimes even younger. DOL’s proposed rules would have restricted youth from working in only the most dangerous tasks, allowing them to perform a wide array of farm jobs. Teens working in 4H or other educational and training programs were exempted under the regulations as well.

“The Department of Labor made every effort to be reasonable and flexible in proposing these safety regulations,” said Reid Maki, NCL’s Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards and the coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition. “The rules continued to exempt kids working on their family farms and DOL indicated that the final rules would be expanded to exempt kids working the farms of relatives.”

More than 150 groups supported the proposed child safety rules. A list of those organizations can be found at www.stopchildlabor.org.

“We waited four decades for these badly needed safety updates and now they have been blocked by an overheated and exaggerated campaign of misinformation that trivialized critically-needed safety protections,” added Maki. “We estimate that 50-100 children could lose their lives without the added protections these rules provided.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.