August 31, 2011 / 10:20 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. seeks to strengthen safety rules for child farm workers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Department of Labor is proposing revisions to child labor laws that would strengthen safety standards for young agricultural workers, the government said on Wednesday.

The revisions would extend restrictions on child labor, including barring children under 16 from cultivating tobacco or operating most power-driven equipment, in the first update to the Fair Labor Standards Act concerning child farm workers since 1970.

“Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America,” Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in a statement. “Ensuring their welfare is a priority.”

The Department of Labor said the proposals aimed 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.”

The proposal comes in response to health and safety concerns for young workers. Earlier this month, a Colorado company pleaded guilty in federal court for violating workplace laws in the death of a 17-year-old boy who suffocated after being sucked under flowing grain while cleaning a bin.

The proposed revisions would extend regulations to prohibit child agricultural work with animals, pesticides, timber, manure pits and storage bins.

Farm workers under age 16 would be barred from cultivating, harvesting or curing tobacco, and a new nonagricultural hazardous occupations order would prevent those under 18 from being employed in work with farm product raw materials.

Grain elevators and bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards and livestock exchanges and auctions would be off-limits to nonagricultural workers under 18.

The proposal would also limit farm workers under age 16 from operating most power-driven equipment. All youth in both agricultural and nonagricultural work would be prohibited from using electronic devices while operating such equipment.

The FLSA establishes a minimum age of 18 for hazardous work in nonagricultural employment, and 16 in agricultural employment. FLSA’s child labor provisions no longer apply once agricultural workers reach age 16, Department of Labor spokeswoman Sonia Melendez said.

According to the department, the updates are based on the experience and recommendations of its Wage and Hour Division and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

A complete list of the proposed revisions, which would not apply to children working on farms owned by their parents, will be available in the Federal Register on Friday.

The public can provide comments on proposals until November 1, after which a public hearing will be held.

Writing by Molly O'Toole; Editing by Cynthia Johnston

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