USA: Plan to Have More Teens in Dangerous Jobs Faces Scrutiny

The deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee has expressed concerns over the Department of Labor’s plan to increase the number of dangerous jobs available to young workers, aged 16 and 17.

The Fair Labor Standards Act currently prohibits 16- and 17-year-old workers from taking certain hazardous jobs (although agricultural work is permitted). There are limited exemptions for apprentices and student learners working “under certain conditions.”

However, these regulations appear to be under threat, and the nation could soon see minors finding work in areas such as excavation, manufacturing explosives, and mining.

The DOL is planning to consider whether Hazardous Occupations Orders “should be updated to reflect the current economic and work environments and to allow for safe and meaningful apprenticeship opportunities and student-learner programs.”

The idea being that lifting these child labor restrictions may benefit the future workforce, and address concerns that young people are not pursuing certain vocations in high enough numbers. It is hoped that relaxing these regulations will stimulate job creation by allowing more young people to enter the workplace without having to contend with restrictive safety regulations.

However, workplace regulations such as Hazardous Occupations Orders protect young workers from long hours, and heavy machinery that could cause injury. According to Bloomberg Law, the new plan would mean that a 16-year-old apprentice could legally operate a chainsaw or carry out work on a roof. Although the full implications of the rule have not been officially confirmed, drafted regulations suggest that this could be the future of child labor laws in the US.

Rep. Keith Ellison wrote a letter on May 23 to the Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, questioning the merit of the proposed changes. In his letter, Ellison notes that there are currently 17 Hazardous Occupations Orders that prevent young people from working in fields like coal mining or firefighting. He states that these laws have been partly responsible for a decrease in work-related deaths among teens (now at a level of 27 per year as of 2015/2016, compared to 72.5 a year in 1999/2000).

“Rolling back these regulations could jeopardize the safety of America’s youth and lead to an increase in the rate of workplace injuries, or even death, for underage workers.”

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