Occupational Health News Roundup

In the Chinese provinces of Henan and Shanxi, police have raided 7,500 brick kilns and rescued hundreds of slave laborers, many of them children. Victims were kidnapped or entrapped with offers of work and then sold into slavery; officials report arresting 250 people for the crimes. Jane Macartney of The Times describes the horrific conditions at the kilns:

The children, some as young as 8, worked in brick kilns for 16 hours a day with meagre food rations. They were guarded by fierce dogs and thugs who beat their prisoners at will. [...]

They lived in squalid conditions with many adult workers, sleeping on filthy quilts on layers of bricks inside the brickworks, with the doors sealed from the outside with padlocks and the windows barred with pieces of wood.

Many children had festering wounds on their black feet and around their waists, apparently from burns. Some were even beaten to death by their guards.

Local officials apparently ignored pleas and protests from family members of missing children, and the raids only occurred after 400 parents posted a letter on the internet.

Others recent news highlights risky working conditions in several specific industries:

Fishing: The International Labour Organization adopted a new Convention and Recommendation on work in the fishing sector, which includes 30 million workers. The provisions are designed to ensure workers have improved occupational safety and health and medical care at sea and that sick or injured fishers receive care ashore.

Agriculture: Reuters reports on a study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine that found farmers were more likely than those with other occupations to have signs of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. On Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard introduced legislation focused on ending abusive child labor practices in agriculture.

Professional Football: Former pro football players who’ve suffered serious injuries have been “handing the NFL its biggest public relations loss in years,” writes Chris Isidore in his CNNMoney.com column. (Thanks to Aman for the link.) USA Today covers veteran players’ testimony at  House hearing yesterday, while the Associated Press reports on a new NFL initiative to help players recognize and report concussions.

Housekeeping: After ergonomics professor William Marras developed a device that measured hotel housekeepers’ movements, he was astounded to find that the workers are as much at risk for back injury as construction workers, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Exposure to common cleaning products also poses risks for those in the cleaning industry; Living on Earth highlights a Boston-area group of Brazilian immigrant housecleaners who formed a co-op that makes their own environmentally friendly and safe cleaning products.

Trucking: Reuters reports on fatigue and other health problems that plague long-haul truckers, putting the truckers and their fellow motorists at risk.

Car Repair: Occupational Hazards notes that a Bureau of Labor Statistics economist has found mechanics to have high rates of fatalities, injuries, and illnesses; assaults are behind the largest share of fatalities, while contact with objects and equipment leads to the most injuries.

Comments

  1. #1 Tasha
    June 27, 2007

    Do you happen to know if the bill put together by Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard also includes children working on a family farm? Currently these workers aren’t covered by any standards – at all.

  2. #2 Liz
    June 27, 2007

    The legislation retains the current exemptions for children working on family farms.

  3. #3 Jason Heilpern
    June 27, 2007

    Out of curiosity what kind of standards would you want placed on child workers on a family farm?

  4. #4 Metro
    June 28, 2007

    Presumably the same ones that apply to other such workers, no?

  5. #5 Liz
    June 28, 2007

    The rules on child labor don’t allow anyone under the age of 14 to work, and place hour limits on 14- and 15-year-olds. There are also certain kinds of dangerous work that are off limits to those under 18.

    The Department of Labor website spells out exceptions:

    Non-agriculture: Youth younger than 16 years of age working in a business solely owned by their parents or by persons standing in place of their parents, can work any time of day and for any number of hours. However, parents are prohibited from employing their child in manufacturing or mining or in any of the occupations declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.

    In addition, the child labor rules do not apply to:

    * Youth employed as actors or performers in motion pictures, theatrical, radio, or television productions;
    * Youth engaged in the delivery of newspapers to consumers; and
    * Youth working at home in the making of wreaths composed of natural holly, pine, cedar, or other evergreens (including the harvesting of the evergreens).

    Agriculture: Youth of any age may be employed at any time, in any occupation in agriculture on a farm owned or operated by their parent or person standing in place of their parent.

  6. #6 Tasha
    June 29, 2007

    Exactly. That last provision may not have been an issue before the industrial revolution, but now farms are equipped with heavy equipment, and there are no restrictions on whether or not children can use them, as long as they are working on a family farm. A few years ago a girl died working on her family’s farm when she was crushed by a large piece of equipment. She was attempting to board the machine – with her parent’s present at the time – and it began “hopping around.” She got caught, crushed, and killed. At the time of her death, she was 12 years old.

    Because it occurred on a family farm, it was not covered by anyone – OSHA, Labor and Industries, no one…. All it got was a brief investigation from the local police – which is standard for most fatalities not covered by other jurisdictions (such as self-employed workers) and doesn’t imply they were looking for any wrong-doing.

    I can’t believe that farming hasn’t been “declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor” as so many other occupations/industries have… Isn’t it about time?

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