Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs Opposes Holdup in Protecting Farmworker Children
October 28, 2011—Yesterday, the Department of Labor sent notice that it would be extending the comment period and further delaying its proposal to update child labor regulations. The postponement will be announced in the Federal Register on Monday. The DOL released the proposal in August to update child labor regulations, which have not been updated in almost 40 years. Comments were set to be due November 1, 2011, 60 days after the proposal was introduced by the DOL, the standard time allotted for such changes. As a result of lobbying efforts by the Farm Bureau and other agribusiness groups, 78 Members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis pressuring the DOL to further postpone these important updates.
“As farmworker advocates, we are opposed to additional delays that may lead to further deaths and the maiming of children working in agriculture,” said Norma Flores López, director of AFOP’s Children in the Fields Campaign and a former farmworker child. “These updates are too late for the hundreds of children who have died as a result of these out-of-date child labor regulations, but it’s not too late for those children currently laboring in hazardous conditions.”
The National Safety Council ranked agriculture as the most dangerous industry for even adult workers, with 28.7 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2008. For youth, agriculture has the highest fatality rate of any industry, with 40% of all youth fatalities occurring on farms. This year alone, two 14-year-old girls were killed and eight others were injured while detassling corn in Tampico, Illinois after being electrocuted by irrigation equipment in July. In August, two 17-year-olds each lost a leg when they became trapped in a grain auger in Kremlin, Oklahoma.
The proposed hazardous orders continue to protect the family farm exemption. The revisions would extend restrictions on child labor including barring children under 16 from cultivating, harvesting, or curing tobacco. Farmworkers in tobacco fields have been shown to have nicotine exposure equal to the worker smoking 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.
The DOL is also proposing, under recommendation by NIOSH, 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. These restrictions, which were delayed nearly nine months rather than the usual 90-day review procedure, could have also prevented the death of 14-year-old Wyatt who drowned in a grain bin earlier this year.
“While we applaud the Department of Labor’s efforts to update these regulations and better protect working children, this delay is alarming,” notes López. “The safety of America’s children must be our nation’s priority.”
The full text of the proposed update to child labor regulations can be found on the DOL website. Comments are now being accepted until December 1, 2011.
The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs is a non-profit, national federation of 52 non-profit and public agencies that provide training and employment services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Our goal is to improve the quality of life for all farmworkers and their families through advocacy, education, and training. For additional comment or an interview, please contact Ayrianne Parks at 202.828-6006 ext. 140 or Parks@AFOP.org.