WASHINGTON – Revisions to US child labor regulations intended to strengthen the safety requirements for young workers employed in agriculture and related fields are being proposed by the US Department of Labor. The agricultural hazardous occupations orders under the Fair Labor Standards Act barring young workers from certain tasks have not been updated since they were promulgated in 1970.

Updates are being proposed based on the enforcement experiences of its Wage and Hour Division, recommendations made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and a commitment to bring parity between the rules for young workers employed in agricultural jobs and the more stringent rules that apply to those employed in nonagricultural workplaces. The proposed regulations would not apply to children working on farms owned by their parents.

“Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. “Ensuring their welfare is a priority of the department, and this proposal is another element of our comprehensive approach.”

The proposal intends to strengthen current child labor regulations prohibiting agricultural work with animals and in pesticide handling, timber operations, manure pits and storage bins. It would prohibit farm workers under age 16 from participating in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco. And it would prohibit youth in both agricultural and nonagricultural employment from using electronic, including communication, devices while operating power-driven equipment.

DOL is also proposing to create a new nonagricultural hazardous occupations order that would prevent children under 18 from being employed in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials. Prohibited places of employment would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.

The proposal would also prohibit farmworkers under 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment. A limited exemption would permit some student learners to operate certain farm implements and tractors, when equipped with proper rollover-protection structures and seat belts, under specified conditions.

The Wage and Hour Division employs a combination of enforcement, compliance assistance and collaboration strategies in partnership with states and community-based organizations to protect children working in the US. When violations of law are found, the division uses all enforcement tools necessary to ensure accountability and deter future violations.

The division is responsible for enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which establishes federal child labor provisions for agricultural and nonagricultural employment, and charges the Secretary of Labor with prohibiting employment of youth in occupations she finds and declares particularly hazardous for them. The FLSA establishes a minimum age of 18 for hazardous work in nonagricultural employment and 16 in agricultural employment. Once agricultural workers reach age 16, they are no longer subject to the FLSA’s child labor provisions. The FLSA also provides a complete exemption for youths employed on farms owned by their parents.

More information, including a complete list of the proposed revisions, will be available in the Sept. 2 Federal Register.