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Wage and Hour Division

Wage and Hour Division (WHD)

Fact Sheet On Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to Revise Federal Child Labor Provisions

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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes federal child labor standards for both agricultural and nonagricultural employment. The agricultural child labor provisions have not been revised since they were first promulgated in the 1970s. After publishing a Final Rule addressing the nonagricultural provisions, in May 2010, the Secretary of Labor announced her intention to undertake a similar regulatory initiative for hired farm worker children.

The FLSA charges the Secretary of Labor with prohibiting employment of youth in occupations which she finds and declares to be particularly hazardous for the employment of young workers. The Act establishes a minimum age of 18 for hazardous work in nonagricultural employment and 16 in agricultural employment. The Act also provides a complete exemption from these rules for a youth who is employed on a farm owned by his or her parent.

On September 2, 2011 DOL published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to update the agricultural child labor regulations to bring them into the 21st century based upon recommendations made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, its own enforcement experience, and a commitment to bring these rules in line with the more stringent rules that apply to employing children in nonagricultural workplaces.

The proposal was drafted in accordance with the following principles:

    • Ensure that the child labor provisions comport with the Secretary’s charge to prohibit hired farm worker youth from performing work that is particularly hazardous to their health and welfare.
    • Bring as much parity as possible to the nonagricultural and agricultural child labor standards.
    • Consider adoption of the recommendations made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in its 2002 report National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Recommendations to the U.S. Department of Labor for Changes to Hazardous Orders.
    • Propose needed changes to the child labor provisions as identified by the Wage and Hour Division's enforcement experience.
  • The major revisions proposed by the NPRM would:
    • Require that all tractors operated by 14- and 15-year-old student-learners be equipped with proper rollover protection structures (ROPS) and seat belts, and that the student-learners use the seat belts.
    • Remove the two certification programs that allow 14- and 15-year-olds, after receiving very little training, to operate most tractors and farm implements without supervision.
    • Revise the type of farm implements 14- and 15-year-old student-learners may operate after successfully completing the academic units addressing each type of implement.
    • Revise and expand the current prohibitions against working with animals.
    • Bring parity to the agricultural and nonagricultural child labor provisions by, for the first time, limiting farm work involving occupations in construction, communications, roofing, at elevations greater than 6 feet, wrecking, demolition, and the operation of most power-driven equipment and manually operated hoists.
    • Prohibit all tasks that fall within the job of “pesticide handler” as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Worker Protection Standard.
    • Prohibit the use of most electronic devices, including communication devices, while operating power-driven machinery, including automobiles, tractors, farm implements and woodworking machines.
    • Prohibit all work in tobacco production and curing in order to reduce the incidence of green tobacco sickness among young workers.
  • DOL is also proposing to create two new Hazardous Occupations Orders involving the nonagricultural employment of children under the age of 18 years.
    • Youth would be prohibited from working in occupations in farm-product raw materials wholesale trade industries such as country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, feed yards, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.
    • Youth in nonagricultural occupations would be prohibited from using most electronic devices, including communication devices, while operating power-driven machinery, including automobiles and woodworking machines.
  • DOL is also proposing to amend 29 CFR Part 579 to incorporate the major provisions of Field Assistance Bulletin 2010-1, Assessment of Child Labor Civil Money Penalties, issued by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) on January 20, 2010. This proposal will bring clarity and transparency to the child labor civil money penalty assessment process by detailing the process WHD follows when making such assessments.

The public is invited to provide comments to DOL on these important proposals. Comments must be received by November 1, 2011.