Farm Lobby Attempts to Block Safety Rules for Children Working in Agriculture
Agriculture continues to be the most dangerous industry for children to work in. Three-quarters of the children who died while working for wages last year were killed while working on farms. Even after seeing horrible injuries and deaths time and again, the farm lobby is insistent children as young as 12 should continue to be allowed to work in hazardous conditions.
The Department of Labor recently proposed safety updates to the rules—the first change in 41 years. The update makes common sense changes to protect farmworker children from known hazards. Children would still be allowed to perform any type of task on their parents’ farm at any age, but the farm lobby is working to have the safety rules thrown out.
The updates to the occupational child safety rules for agriculture include provisions that would:
• Protect children working in agriculture by prohibiting those aged 15 and under from driving tractors—the leading cause of death on farms—unless they take a comprehensive farm safety course
• Shield children 15 and under from working with animals in known dangerous situations, such as large animals being branded, castrated, or herded in a confined space—unless they are in a comprehensive farm safety course. Work with animals is the second leading cause of death on farms.
• Prohibit minors from working in grain storage facilities—which accounted for 26 worker deaths in 2010. The deaths were typically from suffocation in the grain, although facilities can also explode. Two 17-year-old Oklahoma teens lost legs last year when they became trapped in a grain augur.
• Restrict children 15 and under from harvesting and curing tobacco, which may expose them to nicotine levels equivalent to smoking 36 cigarettes, and can cause green tobacco sickness.
There are 15 safeguards in all—including prohibiting work involving blasting agents and anhydrous ammonia and other similar hazards. DOL recently announced they plan to even expand this parental exemption as a result of efforts from the Farm Lobby, but it would seem nothing short of eliminating the rules will appease them.
Please tell DOL to stand firm and implement the occupational child safety rules now to prevent the unnecessary injury and death of more children.
Please issue updates of occupational child safety rules for agriculture.
Dear Secretary Solis:
Thank you for your continued leadership in protecting the most vulnerable workers in America – child workers. As many as 500,000 children and teenagers toil in agriculture, an industry consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous industries in America. Agriculture uses more heavy machinery and more dangerous chemicals now than it did when the U.S. occupational child safety rules were last updated over 40 years ago. We cannot continue to allow our American youth to be exposed to dangerous jobs that can seriously injure them or kill them.
Last year, 12 of the 16 children under age 16 who suffered fatal occupational injuries worked in crop production, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Purdue University found that at least 26 U.S. workers were killed in grain entrapments in 2010; among those who died was Wyatt Whitebread, a 14-year-old boy that suffocated in a grain silo in July 2010.
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. Just this past August, Oklahoma teens Tyler Zander and Bryce Gannon, both 17, each lost a leg in a grain auger accident. We can prevent these tragedies from happening to other children by implementing the proposed updates to the hazardous orders without delay. The rules won’t impair the rural way of life; they simply put the safety and well-being of children above corporate profit.
The proposed health and safety rules for child laborers are reasonable and they will save lives. These updates both improve the safety of youth workers and pass the common sense tests most average Americans would apply. These occupational child safety rules, based on recommendations from NIOSH, issued nearly a decade ago, will save the lives of many children as they address several of the leading causes of deaths for children 15 and under working for wages on farms: tractor operation, work with large animals in extreme conditions, and grain facilities.
Delaying these rules further at this point will mean that youth working in farm work will be killed and maimed unnecessarily. The updates to the non-agricultural child labor rules took three years to be implemented after they were proposed. Given the extreme danger agricultural work poses to children, a delay of this magnitude would have devastating consequences.
I urge you to implement the much-needed proposed updates to the hazardous occupations orders for agriculture as expeditiously as possible.