On the EDge: Child’s death a tragic reminder of weak labor laws

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!

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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • Turtleback March 18, 2014 at 9:02 am

    It’s usually a cold day in … when I agree with this author, but lo, looking outside, the flames seem to be smothered under 2 feet of snow.
    Ed. ellipsis.

  • Jacer March 18, 2014 at 9:24 am

    There is no reason why young people can’t learn to work and work hard. The labor laws have only fueled the entitlement Era. This was a tragic accident, plain and simple.

    • Sean March 18, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      The whole ‘Entitlement Era’ is a myth spread by the Koch brothers and their ilk as a way to reduce taxes on billionaires and allow the Oil and Coal industries to pollute and poison without oversight. Apparently some weak minded people can still be fooled with this garbage.

      • Jacer March 18, 2014 at 5:07 pm

        Ya, call me ignorant, but the entitlement you are talking about is not what I am talking about. I am talking about those who want things their way, but don’t want to earn it. Like the teenager, or adult in your case, that won’t work fast food because it will ruin their complexion, but want a car or phone given to them because everybody else’s parents do that. Because it all has to be fair.
        Earn what you need and want, it builds character and makes for a reliable, trustworthy and productive person. Oh ya, and this story is about people who want to tighten labor laws to prevent the entrepreneur and business minded young people who would like to work and learn skills to be contributors to this society. And this story was brought on by the sad story of a hard working young man who had a skill of driving a forklift and a million things happened in a certain order to cause this forklift to tip. It is tragic because he was so young. But if he had the knowledge to drive a forklift at his age, he has lived a pretty productive life and farm fun life. You can’t beat that.

    • Pep March 19, 2014 at 1:22 pm

      Great reasons include avoiding unnecessary accidents and accepting that science is more powerful than we are.

  • Bub March 18, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Right-wing solutions: abolish labor laws, minimum wage, environmental laws, unions…the list goes on and on…

    • Bobbi March 18, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Got to put a political spin on something so tragic and sad? I am right-wing and feel this also was a horrible tragic accident. I am right-wing and don’t agree with abolishing labor laws. I am right-wing and believe minimum wage should be raised; not as high as they want, but it should be raised. I am right-wing and believe in environmental laws, but at the risk of human beings lives? I am right-wing and am proud to say that I don’t agree with the unions who pilfer from the hard workers to line their own pockets. The list goes on and on, but it seems as though you only see the surface. Until you dig deep enough, you will not realize there are valid reasons for the decisions some people make.

      • Brenda N-W March 18, 2014 at 12:32 pm

        There are no valid reasons that would condone a child of 14 years old to operate a forklift truck. That is why Arizona State Law says the minimum age to operate such a piece of machinery is 18. That is why Arizona State Law requires that the 18 (and older) forklift driver should also hold a driver’s license. That is why Arizona State Law requires that the 18 (and older) forklift driver with the driver’s license is also State certified to drive a forklift. Rulon Jessop was 14. Rulon Jessop did NOT have a driver’s license. Ergo, Rulon Jessop was NOT certified to drive a forklift. Had Rulon Jessop been properly trained and certified to drive a forklift, he would have known that staying in the cab, properly strapped in with a safety belt, was the safest way to behave with a toppling forklift.

        I rest my case.

        • Jacer March 18, 2014 at 4:32 pm

          Yes, and that is why Xbox is so popular. You obviously never grew up on a farm. Again, this was a tragic ACCIDENT. I am sure everyone involved is thinking, “what if”. I don’t agree with a lot of the religious culture of the FLDS in Colorado City, but I absolutely agree with them teaching their children how to work at a young age. I have to say some of he hardest working people I have seen come from that community and smart with common sense. That is a rare quality now a days since the only thing I see young people do around here is look at their phone. And I am not left wing, right wing, liberal or conservative. However, I am a firm believer that if you learn to work, you are much more productive human being.

          • Pep March 19, 2014 at 1:20 pm

            You’re right, using common sense is at the core of avoiding “what if” situations. There are much better, safer ways to teach the value of a good work ethic. It’s nonsensical to state that people should be allowed to do what they want as long as they’re working hard. If a 6 year old or 10 year old wants to drive a forklift, do you let them because you believe they’ll work hard? No matter how good the intentions of anyone involved, the frontal lobe of a 14 year old is simply not developed enough to handle the calculations and responsibility involved. They don’t have the experience or the mental faculties required to safely operate such equipment (see http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/teenage-brain1.htm). Science contributes to our society’s decisions to delay the age our youth are allowed to begin driving, working, drinking, consenting to sex, etc. Children don’t turn into functioning adults overnight. Pushing the expectation on them doesn’t make it so.

            This is not simply a culture difference. This isn’t as simple as the FLDS are hard working people and we (and our youth) are not. What if that boy was just as distracted when this accident happened as one of “our” phone-toting youth? Would you then say he was just as “bad” as ours?

            Have you considered that the future of our world is going to be even more technologically focused in the coming decades and that, perhaps, our technologically inclined youth may actually be actively building skills and are networking and setting themselves up for success in a digital world? Our society is changing – being a productive human being doesn’t mean the same thing anymore.

      • Bub March 18, 2014 at 1:09 pm

        Well BOBBI, the far right has a talent for getting folks to vote against their own interests…

      • Pep March 19, 2014 at 1:38 pm

        Everything Bub said is supported by facts. While the media successfully distracts the right wing with clever talking points and loudly yelling about guns and religion and gay marriage, the effective portion of the right wing is very quietly, slowly but surely working to change those laws and reduce the rights of the individual in exchange for giving more rights and power to corporations and “job creators.” I’m sure if they half the minimum wage, they can create twice as many jobs! Yay!

        If you want to know more about this, research ALEC, check into some news sources who don’t have to tell you they’re trustworthy in their slogan, educate yourself, pay attention.

        Know what your representatives are voting for, and recognize who they actually represent and who they actually work for – it’s not you and it’s not me.

  • Lady K March 18, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Loosing this young man is a horrible situation. However, for every one of these kind of stories I can show you hundreds of young men and women who have grown up driving tractors, horse wagons, forklifts, trucks and all manor of other vehicles. I was taught to drive a truck at 8 while helping to feed the cows. It was in the middle of a field and perfectly safe. Stop telling young people of all the things they can’t do and help them learn how to.

  • JAR March 18, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    BUB’s comments are always so politically correct. Your union steward must be so proud of you BUB. Why don’t you go down to Colorado City with your Protest Signs and give them a piece of you mind.
    I think Mr. Kociela article was well written giving a broad view on a good topic ( as most of his articles do). So put your protest signs back in your garage BUB, Then go back and reread with a open mind.

  • My Evil Twin March 18, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Why would anyone thing that child labor laws would be enforced in Hilldale/Colorado City? They don’t enforce other laws there!

  • Danny March 18, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    Look this author clearly has an axe to grind. I love how he quotes the New England Farmers etc. and FDR, to try sound like the great authority on the subject. He really doesn’t know any details about who or what the kid was working for. I have operated heavy equipment and big trucks since well before I was 14, with out serious incidents. What if this kid had died riding an atv or dirt bike. What if he had died of alcohol poisoning or drug overdose at a party. What if he had unknowingly walked into traffic because his face was buried in his phone and he wasn’t paying attention. I doubt Mr Ed Kociela would be trying to exploit any of those hypothetical tragedies, but God forbid a young kid was actually doing something useful and productive, and carrying a little responsibility. As with any horrible tragedy, there’s always the “shoulda woulda coulda”. Maybe we should be thinking of how to help or offer condolences to the loved ones of this boy instead of trying to kick them in the gut when they’re already knocked down.

  • Pat Law March 19, 2014 at 7:42 am

    Excellent article Mr. Kociela! Very well written. Thank you from those of us world-wide who care about the plight of others!

  • DoubleTap March 19, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Plyg or not a plyg, child labor laws or no child labor laws…..a parent, ANY parent should NEVER have to bury their child. Everyone, get off your high horse and be respectful. He was a 14 year old kid for petes sake!!

    • Jacer March 19, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      This is an opinion article about week labor laws using this incident as an example. I didn’t make any comments on the news story about the actual accident. I think we all understand the tragedy. However, this particular article allows for us to debate respectfully. And for the most part we are.

  • Jacer March 19, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Pep, you know that people are all passionate about something. I for one am passionate about teaching young people skills, physical skills. Say what you want about the brain, but a scientific study in a controlled environment will never convince me to believe that we human’s are not capable of driving machinery safely at a young age. I was helping my dad feed cows while he was on the feed wagon and I was driving the tractor before I was in kindergarten. My husband was welding and fabricating at 12. In fact, almost every person in my little town of 1500 people had the same life growing up as I did. My husband’s family business depended on his help and he too was driving a forklift by the time he was 14 in fact 12 is more accurate. If taught and mentored anyone can learn skills at almost any age. I went to Missouri last year and visited 2 Amish families. A seven year old boy who talked to us as if he was 30 had already trained 2 sets of team horses. I was so impressed at how he handled these animals. He knew how because his father taught him. Just like my dad taught me and my husband’s dad taught him. It is amazing how when given the opportunity, our brains will absorb the information, process it, and use it. Why do you think we have 7 year old hackers. It the same thing, just different equipment. Should we take electronics from kids and put an age and time restriction on them? I think we have lost plenty of kids at the hand of electronics. Suicide is a huge issue with young people and social media, but I am not seeing restrictions being put on that because of those tragic deaths. I want my kids to learn how to work. It aggravates me that they can’t because they are considered dumb until 18. When it is actually these laws and restrictions that are creating the dumb.

  • Hard Worker March 21, 2014 at 7:42 am

    I once asked a local fire chief why he had a child’s shoe that was cut in half on his bookshelf. He told me it was a reminder of a terrible accident where a young child wanted to surprise his father by mowing the lawn and in the process cut his brother’s foot off with the mower. Just glad the author’s parents didn’t let him do anything dangerous when he was a child like mowing lawns. Guess hazard is in the eye of the beholder and only his opinion counts.

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