May 8, 2018 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 0Comment

Update 5/9/2018 (below)

Bloomberg reporter Ben Penn is reporting that the Labor Department (DOL) plans to rollback rules that protect young workers from particularly hazardous tasks and occupations. Kudos to whomever provided the draft proposed rule to the reporter.

Currently, 16- and 17-year olds are prohibited from operating certain paper box compactors, roofing-related work, using wood chippers and chain saws, fighting forest fires, among a few other tasks.  Penn writes:

“One source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal agency deliberations, confirmed the details of the summary. A second source—who also requested anonymity—verified that the general outline of the proposed rulemaking language was consistent with the department’s intentions.

A DOL spokesman declined to comment for this story.”

The proposal was not listed by DOL as a rulemaking priority in its most recent regulatory agenda which was published on December 14, 2017. Agencies are not constrained, however, to act only on items listed in that document. Penn is reporting that it will be listed as a priority, however, on the upcoming agenda set to be published on May 9. The reporter quotes a former DOL official, Michael Hancock, who worked in the division responsible for the child labor rules.

“When you find 16-year-olds running a meat slicer or a mini grinder or a trash compactor, we know kids are severely injured in those circumstances. That’s why the laws exist in the first place.

Now we’re saying, ‘We’re going to open those hazards up to kids; we hope that the employer is going to follow the law to a T and make sure the kid is being closely supervised.  I think that stretches credulity to think that’s how it’s actually going to work.”

I’ll be looking closely at the proposal if it is published. I suspect that DOL will be suggesting that if teen workers are trained and supervised, employers should be allowed to let them do any task, no matter how dangerous.

From 2001-2012, 406 U.S. workers under age 18 were fatally injured on the job. OHS researchers Rauscher, Myers, and Miller found that more than half of the deaths (n=233) involved tasks that are subject to child labor rules. Forty-three percent of those deaths were cases in which at least one child labor rule was violated, including prohibitions on hazardous tasks and occupations.

Despite that data, I’m sure the Trump Administration will argue the opposite. They’ll say we can rely on employers to provide young workers extra training and supervision. That didn’t work too well before these rules were put in place a few decades ago.

[Update, 5/9/2018]

DOL issued its regulatory agenda today. Here’s an excerpt about their plan to propose changes to current rules for 16- and 17-year olds performing hazardous tasks:

“…the Department will consider whether certain hazardous occupations as well as the conditions that apply to the employment of all apprentices and student learners in hazardous occupations, should be updated to reflect the current economic and work environments and to allow for safe and meaningful apprenticeship opportunities and student-learner programs.”

DOL indicates it plans to publish this proposed rule in October 2018.

[Update, 5/27/2018]

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) sent a letter to Labor Secretary Alex Acosta about his plan to revisit these safety rules for young workers. Among other things, Ellison asks Acosta to provide records of communications with group(s) that are recommending the changes.

 

 

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