The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits workers who are 16 or 17 years old from doing certain jobs in Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the country. It allows exemptions for student learners and apprentices in some cases, but these young workers are generally not allowed to work in industries like coal mining and forest fire fighting. The Department of Labor, though, has stated that it plans to propose rulemaking that would expand the industries open to young workers.

A number of Democrats in the House of Representatives have expressed concerns about the DOL proposal. Forty-seven lawmakers signed a letter that was sent on Aug. 1 to the Secretary of Labor. They cited a study published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that showed a decline in workplace fatalities over the last 18 years for people aged 15 to 17. According to the letter, weakened protections for younger workers could reverse the progress represented by lowered fatalities and jeopardize safety and health in the workplace. They ask questions of the DOL regarding the scientific basis of the policy move.

Another representative wrote his own separate letter, noting that there are 17 Hazardous Occupations Orders that restrict employment of young workers. Because of these protections, he says, work-related deaths for teenagers dropped from 72.5 a year between 1999 and 2000 to 27 a year between 2015 and 2016.

Generally speaking, employers in Pennsylvania have a responsibility to provide employees with a safe environment in which to work. People who are injured at work may be entitled to compensation for their injuries through the workers’ compensation system. An attorney may be able to help an injured person draft and file the documents necessary to state a claim or communicate with government officials on the person’s behalf. An attorney might gather evidence in support of the claim and put together a strategy for recovery.