OPINION – In 1832, the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen issued a statement saying: “Children should not be allowed to labor in the factories from morning till night, without any time for healthy recreation and mental culture,” because it “endangers their … well-being and health.”
In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which put limits on many forms of child labor.
In 1949, an amendment was written to the Fair Labor Standards Act that directly prohibited child labor abuses for the first time.
Last week, a 14-year-old Colorado City boy was killed when a forklift he was driving overturned.
My, but we’ve come a long way.
Labor laws are very specific regarding the number of hours a child may work and the types of equipment they can work with, even though there are some exceptions that can place a child in serious danger. Laws, for example, that forbid a child from certain jobs and interaction with heavy machinery while in the employ of another – whether in agriculture or industry – may, or may not, apply when the youngster is working on the family farm. If he was working in another trade or for somebody else, all bets are off and it was clearly a violation of state and federal labor laws that prohibit a 14-year-old from operating a forklift.
It’s unclear if this child was operating a forklift within the letter of the law. If he was, his death was a tragic accident. If he wasn’t, somebody must be held accountable. We should soon find out because, as I understand it, the Arizona Department of Labor and Arizona Attorney General’s Office are taking this investigation very seriously.
The point is, however, that even if what that boy was doing that day was perfectly legal, it doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do. As we have stressed repeatedly over the years, just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is right and just because something is illegal does not make it wrong. Because of the inherent danger, putting a 14-year-old behind the wheel of a forklift or other heavy machinery, even in those rare, legal instances, is wrong because of the inherent danger.
I know a lot of people will claim that as a kid they ran heavy machinery on their family farm and that it taught them some valuable lessons. Glad you survived it without injury, but I am still not convinced that allowing a child to operate dangerous equipment is the best way to instill a strong work ethic. No child’s life is worth that lesson.
While teaching our children to be hard-working individuals is admirable, it should not come at the expense of their safety and well-being, a fact apparently lost on the community of Short Creek where kids are traditionally put to work at an early age.
This isn’t, of course, a problem exclusive to the polygamous group in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, however those who have left the community say it is a problem of greater proportion in Short Creek than in the outside world.
In fact, there are a couple of YouTube videos posted by an outfit called FLDS Productions that show underage kids in questionable work environments.
The first video, called “Spud Harvest – 2005,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IX-mEWRGtPc, clearly shows young boys and girls working on and around heavy potato-harvesting equipment. Are they working on their family’s farm? If so, perhaps they are working legally. If not, it is a clear violation of the law. The other video, “Escapades of The Jolly Gel Gals,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0X8SNZddBs, takes us inside a company that manufactures fake fireplace logs and the gels used to create a flame behind them. The chemicals involved are highly flammable and volatile, yet some of the women shown in the video are holding babies in the factory and workers are shown eating in the manufacturing area.
Are they adhering to federal labor and workplace safety laws and regulations? Even so, is it wise to expose infants to such chemicals and volatility?
I’ll let the feds and officials from Occupational Safety and Health Administration sort that out.
Look, I have no objection to teaching children a good work ethic.
I was not raised in an agricultural environment and never worked in construction or manufacturing, but I began working at a young age. I threw newspapers, mowed lawns, and published my first professional byline at the age of 15 when I started doing odd jobs at a local newspaper in southern California.
If I wanted something – a drum kit; guitar; my car, including insurance and gas money; my education – I paid for it, so I understand and respect hard work.
I also understand and respect the value of human life.
Back in 1832, they started realizing that kids should not be victims of labor, that they should not be forced to work horrendous hours in unsafe and hostile environments, that they “should not be allowed to labor in the factories from morning till night, without any time for healthy recreation and mental culture,” because it “endangers their…well-being and health.”
It took many years to develop an awareness and action to take initial steps to protect them and many children, tragically, lost their lives in the process, many were seriously injured, many became worn and old far before their time. There is still, however, much to be done in this area.
There are lots of jobs young people can perform that will teach them a good work ethic and the value of a buck. And there is nothing wrong with making them earn their way with a little hard work, sweat, and elbow grease, as my dad used to say.
But, should it cost them their lives in the process?
I think not.
We grieve over the loss of this child’s life. It was a tragic, horrific accident for which there is no consolation.
But, it is an example of why Arizona requires industrial and retail forklift operators to be trained, licensed, hold a valid driver’s license and be older than 18. I fail to grasp the logic that makes it OK, however, for a minor to operate the same machinery on a family farm. What makes them more capable?
Children are precious, children are gifts.
It is our responsibility to teach them values, ethics, enterprise.
But, most importantly, it is our responsibility to keep them safe.
No bad days!
- 14-year-old boy dies operating forklift in Colorado City
- Industrial accident leaves man’s head pinned by forklift
- Industrial accident at mine claims one life
- Construction worker dies following 40-foot fall
- Obama Administration withdraws rules for family-farm youth; Hatch approves
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
Email: [email protected]
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