Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Business - Child Labor Laws

Horticultural businesses often hire high school students. Younger family members and relatives are also often used in the business. Remember that children are protected by child labor laws and you should be aware of the requirements when hiring minors.

You might ask, “What does child labor have to do with my business”?

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) distributed a timely Alert titled “Preventing Deaths and Injuries of Adolescent Workers” that should be reviewed by all employers. It is especially pertinent to horticultural employers who routinely hire young workers to assist with the added workload in the spring and summer months. The report addressed concern over the disproportionately high number of injuries and deaths to adolescent workers. They estimate that approximately 70 adolescents die from injuries at work and nearly 200,000 suffer work-related injuries each year.

The sad commentary is that agriculture accounted for 2 out of every 3 deaths. The retail industry came in second followed by construction and the service industries. The activities accounting for most of the adolescent deaths included motor vehicles, tractors and other heavy equipment, electrical hazards, working at jobs with a high risk of homicide and fall hazards. The fact that many of these workers were performing hazardous work prohibited under the Federal Child Labor Laws raises some serious concerns.

Horticultural and other employers need to be aware of the work restrictions for adolescent workers and also remember that training is essential. According to the NIOSH study, more than 50% of the young workers reported they had not received any training. The Federal Child Labor Laws prohibit children under 16 years of age from performing certain hazardous jobs without training. These provisions do not apply to youth working in businesses of their parents or guardians, but nevertheless the training is still essential.

Some of the hazardous jobs not open to youth include: operating a tractor over 20-belt horsepower; operating or assisting with the operation of certain pieces of farm machinery; and operating or assisting with trenchers, fork lifts, chain saws, or other types of dangerous machines. Other jobs excluded include working at high elevations, handling hazardous materials, working in logging operations, transporting passengers in buses, tractors, trucks and autos or riding on a tractor as a passenger or helper.

Violations of Federal Child Labor Laws are too common and have been associated with serious injury and deaths. Research on work-related deaths of adolescents has found that in recent years as high as 86% of deaths of adolescents have been associated with prohibited activities.

Although work does provide many benefits for the development of adolescents and may be financially necessary, the potential for serious injury and death must be recognized and addressed. The disproportionate number of adolescents killed and seriously injured at work each year cannot be tolerated. Employers and parents of adolescents, school counselors, teachers and young workers must be aware of the risks, the law and injury prevention techniques. Educating our youth and employers to recognize the hazards and take steps to reduce risks is the key.

Adapted from an article by Ron Jester; UD Extension Safety Specialist (retired).

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