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Colorado Teen’s Death Prompts Proposed Change in U.S. Law

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OSHA MagnetThe U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposes to revise child labor laws to make sure that young farm workers are better protected from workplace accidents. The agency’s action comes less than a month after Tempel Grain LLC pleaded guilty in federal court to violating workplace safety regulations in the accidental death of a 17-year-old boy who was working for the company in 2009. The boy, Cody Rigsby, was sent into a grain elevator without a safety harness to help loosen the flowing stream of grain into a truck below. He became buried in the grain and suffocated.

“Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America,” Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in a statement. “Ensuring their welfare is a priority.”

Tempel Grain, which pleaded guilty to criminal charges of violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, agreed in a plea bargain to pay $50,000 to OSHA over the next five years. As a result of the accident, the Eastern Plains company will be on probation for five years, and is not permitted to employ anyone younger than 18 to work at a grain elevator site. The company is required to provide proper safety training for new employees plus ongoing refresher courses. Harnesses and lanyards will also be required for all grain elevator personnel.

Tempel Grain also agreed to settle civil claims with Rigsby and her family. It will pay each of Cody’s four siblings $25,000, and it will give his mother $330,000 over several years, along with a $70,000 lump-sum payment.

The Denver Post’s Caitlin Gibbons reported that Cody Rigsby’s mother, Virontka Rigsby, said had she known the full extent of the danger and of previous OSHA violations, she never would have let Cody work there. The Post also reported that Kelly Spitzer, Tempel Grain’s vice president, said the company had no idea it was sending its employee into danger when he was told to clear that Haswell, Colorado, grain elevator on May 29, 2009. “We failed to take care of Cody, and now his family is left without a son, brother and grandson,” Spitzer said.

Reuters reports that:

The FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] establishes a minimum age of 18 for hazardous work in nonagricultural employment, and 16 in agricultural employment. FLSA’s child labor provisions no longer apply once agricultural workers reach age 16, Department of Labor spokeswoman Sonia Melendez said.

The proposed revisions in the first update since 1970 to the Fair Labor Standards Act concerning child farm workers would bar children under 16 from cultivating tobacco or operating most power-driven equipment. The proposal would also prevent farm workers under age 16 from operating most power-driven equipment. All young people in agricultural and non-agricultural work would be prohibited from using electronic devices while operating such equipment. DOL’s proposed revisions seek to bring parity between the rules for child farm workers and the more stringent rules that apply to non-agricultural workers.

In addition, the proposed revisions would prohibit child agricultural work with animals, pesticides, timber, manure pits, and storage bins; and farm workers under age 16 would be barred from the cultivation, harvesting, or curing of tobacco. A new non-agricultural hazardous occupations order would prevent anyone under 18 from working with farm product raw materials. Also off-limits for non-agricultural workers under 18 would be: grain elevators and bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, and livestock exchanges and auctions.

The public is invited to provide comments on proposals until November 1. After that, a public hearing will be held.

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