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By Eric Stirgus April 4, 2012

Federal stats back up agriculture deaths claim

Most nonbinding resolutions that come before the Georgia House of Representatives garner little debate, but one involving child labor laws got a little testy.

Some House members were angry about a U.S. Department of Labor proposal they say would make it tougher for children to work on the family farm. Agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry. So Georgia lawmakers wrote House Resolution 1561, which said the federal agency "seeks to impose harsh, extreme, and uncalled for regulations attempting to ban students from working on farms."

Not so, said Rep. Rashad Taylor, an Atlanta Democrat who opposed the resolution. Taylor said he’s worried about the safety of children working on some farms. He offered several amendments to the resolution, claiming portions of it were incorrect. Taylor’s argument included a claim that some lawmakers quickly disputed.

"More children die in agricultural jobs than in any other industry," he said.

One lawmaker suggested more children die playing football than from agricultural work. Another suggested the numbers may be higher because more children work in agriculture than other industries.

Rep. Penny Houston, a Republican from South Georgia, asked Taylor several pointed questions that suggested she didn’t think the lawmaker from the big city understood the issue. Her questions included a query wondering if Taylor had ever picked peas.

We dug deep on Taylor’s claim.

Currently, minors may be employed by their parents at any time in any occupation on a farm owned or operated by his or her parents.

Unfortunately, there’s not much research on child labor deaths. The most recent data came to us from a department within the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They put together a spreadsheet using Bureau of Labor Statistics data to determine the number of children 18 and under who died on the job between 2003 and 2010. During that time, there were 311 deaths nationwide. Nearly half of those deaths, 151, were in the agriculture industry, the data showed.

A CDC spokeswoman told PolitiFact Georgia that 73 percent of all work-related deaths for children 15 and under were in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries. They did not have a more specific breakdown for all industries.

A 2006 study by two CDC researchers reached similar conclusions. The study was based on two sets of data from 1992 to 2002. In that report, they noted research that found an astounding 79 percent of all work-related deaths for youths 10 years of age and younger occurred in agriculture production.

"As a proportion of all young workers, young workers in agriculture production incur a disproportionate share of fatalities," the 2006 report says.

The National Consumers League puts out an annual list of the most dangerous occupations for teenagers. In 2011, the most dangerous industry for young people 18 and younger was agriculture, with a death rate of 21.3 per 100,000 full-time employees, according to the report.

Another report we saw, using BLS data, showed between 1992 and 1998 that nearly 43 percent of work-related fatalities for children 18 and younger were due to agricultural work. The second-highest percentage of fatalities was in retail trade.

So why are a high proportion of children losing their lives in agriculture industries?

One report found the most common cause of death of youths in agriculture is from farm
machinery, such as a harvester or tractor. Between 1992 and 1997, 51 deaths of youths in agriculture nationwide could be specifically attributed to overturned tractors.

Other research shows a high number of falls from moving vehicles or mobile equipment and being struck by the same.

There are few reports on this subject, and there are very few deaths to study.

But everything we’ve seen shows a high percentage of work-related deaths among children occur in agriculture. The most recent data shows it is nearly 50 percent. The numbers seem to back up Taylor’s claim.

For the record, Taylor’s efforts to amend the resolution failed. The resolution passed.

Maybe PolitiFact’s ruling will give Taylor some solace. Maybe not.

We rate his claim True.

The following section was inadvertently edited out of the print version of Tuesday’s PolitiFact Georgia regarding a statement by state Rep. Stacey Abrams on Georgia’s per-capita spending: (This item will not evaluate Abrams’ moose claim, though we warn her that she may receive calls from irate fans of South Dakota elk. Elk are common there. Their moose cousins tend to live farther north.)

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Georgia House Resolution 1561

National Consumers League 2011 Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens report

Emails from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokeswoman Christina Spring, March 20 and 27, 2012

U.S. Department of Labor, "Youth & Labor, Agricultural Employment"

U.S. Department of Labor press release on "parental exemption" for child labor, Feb. 1, 2012

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employed persons 16 and older

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Chapter 2, Child Labor Laws and Enforcement"

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Federal stats back up agriculture deaths claim

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