Dept. of Agriculture, Environment, Farmworker Children, Health & Safety, Work Hazards

AFOP Supports Strengthening DOL’s Hazardous Orders in Agriculture

From, 2 Sept 2011.

Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs Commends Step Forward in Protecting Children

In the midst of National Labor Rights Week, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is proposing revisions to child labor regulations that would strengthen the safety requirements for young workers employed in agriculture and related fields. The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) is glad to see the DOL take this important step towards protecting America’s youth.

“This is the first update to the U.S. child labor laws in over 40 years, and we hope to see the changes implemented as quickly as possible,” says Norma Flores López, Director of AFOP’s Children in the Fields Campaign. “These historic changes will help protect farmworker youth from the hazards of agricultural work and will save countless lives.”

The revisions would extend restrictions on child labor including barring children under 16 from cultivating, harvesting, or curing tobacco. Farmworkers in tobacco fields routinely have nicotine exposure equal to the worker smoking 36 cigarettes per day according to Public Health Reports. Children working in tobacco fields are particularly vulnerable to acute tobacco poisoning, known as green tobacco sickness, which has no special treatment or cure.

Under the proposed changes, children under 16 would also be prohibited from operating most power-driven equipment. According to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), tractor overturns are the leading cause of occupational agricultural deaths in the U.S., yet a 2006 article from the Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health found that fewer than 1% of the youth in Ohio who were operating tractors or other hazardous machinery had even participated in tractor certification training.

The DOL is also proposing, under recommendation by NIOSH, to prohibit all work inside grain silos. In 2010, 51 workers were engulfed by grain stored in towering metal structures, and 26 died — the highest number on record, according to a report issued by Purdue University. These restrictions, which were delayed nearly nine months rather than the usual 90-day review procedure, could prevent the repeat of the deaths of 14-year-old Wyatt Whitebread and 19-year-old Alejandro Pacas who drowned in a grain bin earlier this year.

“While we applaud the Department of Labor’s 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, there is more work to be done,” added López. “We need to equalize the child labor laws so all children can receive the same protections regardless of the industry they work in.”

The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs is a non-profit, national federation of 52 non-profit and public agencies that provide training and employment services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Our goal is to improve the quality of life for all farmworkers and their families through advocacy, education, and training. For additional comment or an interview, please contact Ayrianne Parks at 202.828-6006 ext. 140 or

Source:, “AFOP Supports Strengthening DOL’s Hazardous Orders in Agriculture” 2 Sept 2011.


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