Child Labor Research Needs


DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 97-143

Applicable Regulations

OSHA Regulations

OSHA strives to make the workplace safe for everyone, regardless of age. The agency uses a 45-year working life (occurring between ages 21 and 65) as standard and, with one exception, does not differentiate on the basis of age. The only age specific OSHA regulation concerns exposure to ionizing radiation [29 CFR* 1910.96(b)(3)].

*Code of Federal Regulations. See CFR in References.

Federal Child Labor Laws

The child labor provisions of the FLSA [29 USC Ch. 8 201219] were enacted to protect the educational opportunities of minors and prohibit their employment in jobs and under conditions detrimental to their health or well-being. The provisions include restrictions on both occupations and hours of work for minors under age 16; they prohibit all minors under age 18 from performing work within the nonagricultural hazardous occupations orders (HOs) — jobs declared by the U.S. Secretary of Labor as too dangerous for minors to perform. The regulations also provide for the enforcement of the child labor provisions and fines of up to $10,000 per violation [29 CFR 570, 579, and 580].

The FLSA applies to minors engaged in interstate commerce, the production of goods for interstate commerce, or activities closely related and directly essential to such commerce.

The Act also applies to minors employed in certain enterprises covered by the Act. The courts generally interpret the coverage of the Act broadly and its exemptions narrowly because of the remedial purposes of the law. However, not all minors are covered by Federal child labor laws. By statute, the Federal child labor provisions do not apply to the following:

  • Youths under age 16 employed by their parents in occupations other than manufacturing or mining, or in occupations declared hazardous by the U.S. Secretary of Labor (however, children employed in agriculture may perform any work on farms owned or operated by their parents)
  • Youths under age 18 employed as actors or performers in motion pictures or in theatrical, radio, or television productions
  • Youths under age 18 engaged in the delivery of newspapers to the consumer
  • Home workers under age 18 who make wreaths composed principally of natural holly, pine, cedar, or other evergreens (including the harvesting of the evergreens)

Additional exemptions have been created by regulation. Professional sports attendants who are aged 14 and 15 and perform traditional sports attendant duties outside of school hours are exempt from the hours standards of Child Labor Regulation No. 3 under the FLSA. The Work Experience and Career Exploration Program is an exception to the hours standards of child labor regulations. This program also allows the Wage and Hour Administrator to grant variances that permit enrollees to be employed in otherwise prohibited occupations but not in manufacturing, mining, or the other 17 HOs. The Work Experience and Career Exploration Program is designed to provide a carefully planned work experience and career exploration program for youths aged 14 and 15 who can benefit from a career-oriented educational program designed especially to meet the participants needs, interests, and abilities. Exemptions from certain HOs apply to apprentices and students enrolled in vocational education programs under conditions that assure safe, well supervised employment.

Although agricultural employment can be extremely hazardous, the Federal child labor provisions for farm work still reflect the bucolic ideology often described as the agrarian myth [Kelsey 1994]. Coverage is limited and protections are few for young farm workers. Hazardous work in nonagricultural industries is prohibited for youths under age 18. But in agriculture, hazardous work is prohibited only for youths under age 16 who are formally employed away from the family farm. As mentioned, the child labor provisions contain a statutory exemption that permits the children of farmers to perform any job on a family farm.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) conducted a comprehensive review of the nonagricultural child labor regulations to consider significant social, economic, and technological changes that have occurred in the workplace during the past decade. As part of this review, DOL published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 1994 [59 Fed. Reg. 25164 (1994)]. NIOSH submitted comments on the Proposed Rulemaking [NIOSH 1994] and hopes that some revised Regulations will be issued in 1997.

Several bills are being considered by Congress this year to limit the enforcement of Hazardous Occupations Order Number 2 (HO 2) (which deals with motor vehicle driving and outside helpers ) and HO 12 (which deals with power driven paper products machines). Legislation has also been introduced to permit minors aged 16 and 17 to spend as much as 49% of each workday driving. Since the child labor provisions place absolutely no limits on the number of hours these minors may work, the amount of time spent behind the wheel could be substantial. Legislation has been introduced to permit minors aged 16 and 17 to load but not operate or unload paper balers and compactors that meet safety and engineering standards issued by the American National Standards Institute.

† Federal Register. See Fed. Reg. in References.
‡ An outside helper is any person other than a driver whose work includes riding on a motor vehicle outside the cab for the purpose of assisting in transporting or delivering goods.

State Child Labor Laws

Almost all States have child labor laws, mandatory school attendance laws, and requirements for issuance of work permits or age certificates. State laws often mimic the Federal provisions, but many differences exist. The effectiveness of State laws often depends on the numbers and kinds of exemptions permitted and the commitment made to enforcement. When both the Federal and State child labor provisions apply, the employer is held to the stricter standard.

State Workers Compensation Laws

State workers’ compensation laws also affect child labor. Reporting requirements can provide valuable injury data for industries and other workplace settings where minors are injured.

Some State compensation laws may also provide for increased rates or fines when youths under age 18 are injured in violation of Federal or State child labor laws. However, many State laws also limit the legal remedies for the occupational injury or death of youths under age 18.

Page last reviewed: June 6, 2014