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April 05, 2024
ASSP takes anti-child labor position

On April 2, the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) announced a formal position opposing “exploitative” child labor.

The professional association and consensus standards-setting group called for establishing legislation and regulation to prohibit exploitative child labor practices and adding specific language to global standards that facilitates prevention and steps occupational safety and health professionals should take to implement policies and programs that better protect children in the workforce.

The ASSP voiced opposition to specific child labor practices that included:

  • Full-time hours or an accumulation of hours that interfere with a child’s ability to attend school;
  • Exposure to hard physical labor, hazardous conditions, or toxic work environments;
  • Agricultural tasks involving dangerous equipment known to cause injuries and fatalities to young workers;
  • Work activities that would prevent a child from growing up to become a healthy and productive adult; and
  • Endeavors that harmfully or inappropriately demean or exploit children.

“While it is known that child labor is a significant issue in many developing countries, it sadly is also an issue in the United States that is seldom recognized,” ASSP President Jim Thornton said in a statement.

“There has been a focus to loosen U.S. child labor laws to help industry combat labor shortages,” he added. “Wages for young workers are generally less than workers 18 and older based on the premise they are learning or less productive. The reality is those arguments are hyperbole to allow youth to be treated as lesser people.”

The ASSP also announced steps the group intends to take in support of its position, including:

  • Publishing articles and hosting webinars to educate the occupational safety and health community;
  • Advocating for the prohibition of exploitative child labor in global standards such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/ASSP/International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 45001 and ANSI/ASSP Z10 occupational health and safety management systems standards;
  • Using the ASSP’s consultative status with the United Nations to support efforts to raise awareness;
  • Encouraging ASSP members to help address the issue through supply chain requirements and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices; and
  • Working with other occupational safety and health organizations to help prohibit exploitative child labor.

Joint safety, child labor enforcement

The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Wage and Hour Division (WHD) have teamed up in the past year to conduct joint investigations into safety and child labor violations.

Last December, OSHA announced that a Florence, Wisconsin, sawmill faced $1.4 million in penalties following a 16-year-old worker’s fatal injuries. Although federal regulations bar young workers from operating dangerous machinery, a 16-year-old worker became trapped in a stick stacker machine as he tried to unjam it. The teen worker remained trapped until he was found, freed, and then transported to the hospital, where he passed away 2 days later.

OSHA investigators found that minors were exposed to dangerous workplace hazards, leading to a WHD investigation.

OSHA and WHD investigators also examined safety and child labor violations at a Hattiesburg, Mississippi, poultry plant last year following the death of a 16-year-old worker.

OSHA had to obtain a warrant from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi to secure access to the facility and investigate safety hazards related to the fatal incident. The agency eventually cited the employer with 14 serious and 3 other-than-serious safety violations following the death of the teen sanitation worker, who was pulled into a machine. OSHA proposed $212,646 in penalties.

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