Workplace safety advocates are rejoicing after the White House released new rules governing child workers in the agricultural sector. The new rules are expected to strengthen the protection of minors engaged in hazardous work, particularly in agriculture where the largest percentage of child laborers may be found. The new rules had been submitted to the White House last year for review, but had been stalled there for 9 months before it was finally released for public comment this week.
For some child workers, however, the rules may have come too late. A large number of children are hurt or fatally injured while on the job. Just this month, two 17-year-old boys were critically injured in Oklahoma. Also this month, a U.S. Magistrate Judge sentenced Tempel Grain Elevators for the 2009 death of Cody Rigby, another 17-year-old boy who had been made to work with unguarded and dangerous machinery used in grain processing.
What forms of labor are actually considered as hazardous work unfit for children or minors? Under the ILO Convention 182, hazardous work has been referred to as “work which, by its nature or the circumstance in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.” The following types of work have already been categorized as hazardous work unfit for children:
- work that exposes children to physical. emotional or sexual abuse
- work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces
- work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or that involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads
- work in a unhealthy environment, and,
- work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night
While safety regulations may be helpful for avoiding such accidents, it’s still a mystery as to why minors are allowed to work in such hazardous conditions. Hazardous work has already been included as among the worst forms of child labor since 1999, and countries, including ours, have already committed to prohibit the employment of children for such work. Hopefully, with this recent development, we’ll see more actions by the federal government to prevent child labor in work that are considered hazardous.