Youth should be banned from working in poultry plants, construction, trash collection and commercial fishing because the jobs are too dangerous, says a new report done for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
But they should be allowed to work with meat slicers.
Those are among 54 recommendations made in a study of labor regulations designed to protect youth, done by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An average of 67 youth under age 18 die each year from job-related injuries, according to the institute. Another 77,000 are treated at hospitals, while an estimated 123,000 injured youth do not seek treatment.
The leading cause for fatal work-related injuries is transportation, accounting for about 40 percent of fatalities, the report said. Assault and violence account for 20 percent.
In an effort to reduce worker injuries, in 1939 the DOL began implementing “hazardous orders” (HOs) for certain jobs. Employees must be at least 16 to work the 11 agricultural-related jobs or occupations with HOs and at least 18 to work the 17 nonagricultural-related jobs.
The institute recommended adding 17 HOs and making 37 modifications to existing guidelines.
“This is a wonderful report, long overdue,” said Jackie Nowell, director of occupational safety and health for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).
The recommendations are backed by cold statistics about death and injury, as well as grisly specifics about the dangers youth encounter on the job. HOs are generally warranted if the death rate associated with the work is 10 per 100,000, twice the average rate. The severity and number of injuries are also considered.
The report also proposed easing some restrictions, including the prohibition against using meat slicers such as those found in delis and grocery stores.
“Although data show high numbers of injuries associated with power-driven slicers, the injuries appear to be relatively minor,” the report says.
“That’s probably the one thing we’re going to address,” said Darlene Adkins, vice president of labor policy for the National Consumers League (NCL). “An injury that’s bad enough to make someone miss three or four days is a bad injury.”
Nowell agreed. “We don’t think kids should be using meat slicers. It might not be your whole hand [cut off], it might just be the tip of your finger.”
Adkins was also disappointed that the report did not include recommendations about kids hawking merchandise door-to-door or on streets. The Child Labor Coalition – an alliance of more than five dozen youth, safety, consumer and labor organizations
like the UFCW, the Children’s Defense Fund and the American Academy of Pediatrics – estimates that 50,000 kids work as street peddlers on any given day. The youth are often exploited and placed in dangerous situations.
On the agriculture side, the report recommends amending the prohibited machinery list to include general equipment like harvesters, wood processors and excavators. It also recommends prohibiting youth under 16 from working at heights greater than 6feet and from all work inside silos and manure pits.
The DOL will review the report and try to balance “the benefits of employment opportunities for youth with the necessary and most effective safety protections,” Tammy D. McCutchen, administrator of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, said in a letter accompanying the report.
Neither Adkins nor Nowell are optimistic that the Bush administration will act soon, based in part on the length of time it took DOL to release the report. The center sent the DOL a draft about year ago. The DOL released the report this summer.
“We’re very concerned,” Adkins said. “It’s indicative that this report isn’t even on the DOL website” or on the institute’s.
An institute spokesman said the report is not the type of document intended for the general public. The agency will make copies available on request.