New child-labor rules for ag eyed

Sep 2, 2011
by DTN

The U.S. Department of Labor, responding to a surge in fatal grain-elevator accidents, proposed last Wednesday to ban children under the age of 18 from working around these towering structures which hold massive amounts of crops such as corn, wheat and soybeans.

According to Purdue University, 26 people died in U.S. grain-elevator accidents in 2010. Six of the fatalities involved children under the age of 16. The dangers include suffocation and falling from great heights.

The Labor Department is also proposing to increase for the first time in four decades a list of jobs that it considers too hazardous for children 15 and younger to perform on the farm.

Under the regulatory changes proposed by the Labor Department, people who are hired to do such things as drive most farm equipment or work in tobacco fields would have to be at least 16 years old. Recent medical studies have shown that workers who toil in tobacco fields can be exposed to unsafe levels of nicotine, a problem called green-tobacco sickness.

“Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America,” said Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis in a prepared statement.

Still, 16-year-olds will be able to do jobs on the farm that the government considers hazardous, such as working around pesticides and manure pits.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 created two sets of rules when it comes to employing minors on the farm and off the farm. As a result, farmers will continue to be able to hire 16-year-olds to do the sorts of hazardous jobs that employers in other sectors can give only to someone who is at least 18 years old.

What is more, the Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t apply to the children of farmers working for their parents. The federal law doesn’t block these kids from doing any type of farm work.

The Labor Department plans to collect public comments on its proposed regulatory changes until Nov. 1.