This week, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released their proposal for long-awaited revisions to child labor regulations. At AFOP, we are glad to see the DOL take an important step towards strengthening the safety requirements for young workers employed in agriculture and related fields. This is the first update to the U.S. child labor laws in over 40 years, and we hope to see the changes implemented as quickly as possible.
One of the changes proposed in the HOs is the restriction of children under 16 from cultivating, harvesting, or curing tobacco. Farmworkers in tobacco fields routinely have nicotine exposure equal to the worker having smoked 36 cigarettes per day according to Public Health Reports. Children working in tobacco fields are particularly vulnerable to acute tobacco poisoning, known as green tobacco sickness, which has no special treatment or cure.
Another important update would be to prohibit all work inside grain silos. In 2010, 51 workers were engulfed by grain stored in towering metal structures, and 26 died — the highest number on record, according to a report issued by Purdue University. Had these restrictions not been held up nine months by the Office Management and Budget, it may have prevented the death of 14-year-old Wyatt Whitebread who drowned in a grain bin earlier this year.
The DOL’s proposed revisions to hazardous orders were posted in the Federal Register today. The public is asked to submit comments by November 1 to share thoughts on these proposed changes and give the DOL additional information on regulations they would like to propose.
While the revisions would prohibit children from handling pesticides, farmworker youth are still exposed to these dangerous chemicals every day while working in the fields. The proposed regulations from the DOL would not change the way pesticide usage is regulated in agriculture, which today is based on an average, 154 pound adult male, not the women and children allowed to work in the fields and who are, on average, much smaller. Additional revisions to regulations in agriculture that affect farmworker children, such as this one, would better ensure their safety.
AFOP commends the DOL’s efforts to “bring parity between the rules for young workers employed in agricultural jobs and the more stringent rules that apply to those employed in nonagricultural workplaces.” While this is a very important step in that direction, there is more work to be done. It is essential we equalize the child labor laws, so children receive the same protections, regardless of the industry they work in. Children should not be employed in hazardous jobs that put their health, and even their lives, in jeopardy.
This Labor Day as you gather with friends and family for barbeques and celebrations in honor of this important holiday, please remember the many farmworkers who labored to harvest the food on your table.