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Child-Labor Law Changes Stalled

December 17, 1997

In 1994, U.S. Labor Department officials asked for advice about tightening federal child labor laws.

What they got back included 43 pages of recommendations _ proposed new child safety rules _ from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The recommendations were supported with statistics documenting death and injury to children in unregulated work.

The proposals have never been implemented.

Some of NIOSH’s recommendations:

_Drop distinctions between hazardous occupations in agriculture and other industries.

Existing rules permit hazardous work in agriculture at age 16, two years younger than in other fields. Thus a forklift, the cause of many disabling and fatal injuries, can be off-limits in the factory but OK in the barn.

_Drop the exemption that permits children employed by their parents to perform any farm task, no matter how dangerous.

_Ban 16- and 17-year-olds from construction sites altogether.

Although most young workers injured on construction sites are doing tasks already deemed unlawful, some are struck by falling objects, suffer electrical shock or are exposed to toxic chemicals while doing work that complies with the law.

_Bar youths from commercial fishing, from using road-grading machinery and powered conveyors, and from extracting petroleum and natural gas. NIOSH counted at least 11 deaths of 16- and 17-year-olds working as roustabouts and the like in oil and gas fields.

The NIOSH response was sent to the Labor Department in October 1994, and nothing happened.

Both former Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich and his successor, Alexis Herman, said they were unfamiliar with the NIOSH recommendations. But Herman said she was preparing recommendations for President Clinton that may tighten work safety rules for children.

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