The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) move to allow more 16- and 17-year-olds to work in hazardous jobs is drawing fire from Democratic lawmakers who say the proposal would put the health and safety of young workers at risk.

The DOL said its upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, entitled, Expanding Apprenticeship and Employment Opportunities for 16 and 17-Year Olds Under the FLSA, would revise the 18-year-old minimum for hazardous work (in nonagricultural employment) set by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

From the notice:

“Hazardous Occupations Orders (HOs) are the means by which the Secretary declares certain occupations to be particularly hazardous for these youth. The Department’s nonagricultural regulations provide limited exemptions from the HOs for apprentices and student learners who are working under certain conditions.  In this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Department will consider whether certain HOs as well as the conditions that apply to the employment of all apprentices and student learners in hazardous occupations, should be updated to reflect the current economic and work environments and to allow for safe and meaningful apprenticeship opportunities and student-learner programs.”

The DOL’s proposal is designated as “Deregulatory.”

In a letter sent Aug. 1 to Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, 47 legislators expressed their concerns about whether or not the proposal has been “adequately informed by a review of the current data and scientific literature regarding workplace hazards for young workers.”

The lawmakers, who included Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), ranking member of the Education and the Workforce Committee; Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), ranking member of the Subcommitee on Workforce Protections; and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), ranking member on the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, pointed out that the 17 jobs deemed too hazardous for youths through HOs – which include operating wood chippers and chain saws – were arrived at through a lengthy analysis of injury and fatality data, with the help of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The letter requested a formal review by NIOSH on proposed changes to current HOs or apprenticeship/student-learner exemptions.

Read the DOL notice here.

Read the legislators’ letter  here.