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Aug. 31, 2011 

Solis Announcement on Child Farm Labor Welcome, But Overdue

Statement by Justin Feldman, Worker Health and Safety Advocate, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Today, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced that the Department of Labor (DOL) is updating regulations that protect children from dangerous agricultural jobs. Her announcement is long overdue, as these rules have not been updated in 40 years.

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous sectors for workers in the U.S., and it is especially hazardous for youths. Young people employed in agricultural work suffer fatalities at rates six times higher than their counterparts in other industries.

The DOL proposal will protect minors from certain hazardous tasks including operating tractors, demolishing buildings, herding cattle and shaking loose large quantities of grain. These tasks have proven deadly all too often. This summer, several teen workers have been killed or maimed on farms and in grain elevators. We need to make sure that children are protected when they work. The sooner the Department of Labor finalizes this proposal, the better.

But even with these new regulations, there is a big loophole in federal child labor laws when it comes to agriculture. The DOL can offer only limited protections to 16- and 17-year-old workers. And they can’t prevent children as young as 12 from working long hours in the fields. Congress needs to act so children can be fully protected on America’s farms.

For more information about the need for the child labor rule update, visit http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/pressroomredirect.cfm?ID=3399.
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