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Protecting Youth at Work: Health, Safety, and Development of Working Children and Adolescents in the United States
Under FLSA, the Secretary of Labor may prohibit young people under 18 (under 16 in agriculture) from jobs designated as hazardous. The regulations that list these hazardous jobs are referred to as hazardous orders. Many existing hazardous orders refer to machinery and processes that are no longer used, and they fail to address the full range of health and safety hazards and technologies in the contemporary workplaces in which youngsters are now employed. None of the current hazardous orders takes into account the special risks to young workers caused by exposure to carcinogens, biohazards, reproductive toxins, and ergonomic hazards, the health effects of which may not be evident until adulthood; nor are the orders based on research and data on jobs that pose hazards to children and adolescents.
Recommendation: The U.S. Department of Labor should undertake periodic reviews of its hazardous orders in order to eliminate outdated orders, strengthen inadequate orders, and develop additional orders to address new and emerging technologies and working conditions. Changes to the hazardous orders should be based on periodic reviews by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of current workplace hazards and the adequacy of existing hazardous orders to address them.
Minimum Levels of Protection
State regulations vary widely on the maximum weekly hours minors under the age of 16 may work. Although some states have enacted regulations that are consistent with FLSA regulations, 16 states allow minors under age 16 to work more than the federal maximum. A few states regulate the maximum weekly hours that 16-and 17-year-olds may work, and these rules also vary, ranging from 20 to 54 hours per week. States' hazardous orders also differ with regard to coverage and interpretation from the FLSA hazardous orders. Although some states have incorporated the federal standards, other states have adopted their own definitions, as in the case of operating power-driven machinery. Consistent with the principle of equal protection for all children, federal hour limitations and hazardous orders should be considered the minimum safe requirements for working children and adolescents.