WASHINGTON -- After much delay, the White House has finally released a proposed rule that would update child labor regulations in agricultural work. Put forth by the Department of Labor last fall, the rule had been stuck in red tape at the White House for nine months, angering workplace safety advocates who said the regulations need to be modernized.
Although the rule still has not been made public, public health officials believe it will restrict minors from engaging in certain dangerous work activities on farms and perhaps grain facilities. As reported last week by HuffPost, safety advocates claimed that recent accidents involving juveniles may have been prevented had the rule not been held up at the White House's Office of Management and Budget.
“[A]fter so many tragedies involving young workers, OMB finally came to understand the pressing need for this regulation," Justin Feldman, a worker health and safety advocate at watchdog group Public Citizen, said in an email. "At this point we’ll have to wait for the text. I understand that OMB made changes to the Department of Labor’s proposal and it remains to be seen whether or not the revised proposal will be as robust as the original."
A group of more than 25 public health officials and advocates signed a letter last week to OMB official and regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, who oversees rule review at the agency, urging him to move the child labor rule along. The officials said the new rule may have prevented an accident in Oklahoma earlier this month in which two 17-year-old boys had their legs crushed when they were pulled into a grain augur.
"We hope this terrible event and the hundreds of other incidents that injure and kill young workers every year will compel you to release this draft proposal immediately," they wrote.
Rules written by federal agencies like the Labor Department are subject to review by the White House, especially when they may have economic impact. Such rules are supposed to be reviewed within 90 days, although that period can be extended. Feldman and other safety advocates said the nine month review of the child agriculture rule was unusually long.
The proposed rule will undergo a public comment period before being finalized. It is expected to be published in the federal register in the coming weeks.