The Tragic Consequences of Child Labor in Hazardous Jobs

Lauren Baxter

By Lauren Baxter

Published December 26, 2023

The tragic incident at Florence Hardwoods in Wisconsin highlights the dangers of allowing minors to work in hazardous jobs. In June, 16-year-old Michael Schuls lost his life while trying to unjam a stick stacker machine. The Department of Labor's investigation revealed that several minors, including Schuls, were performing maintenance on equipment without proper training and safety procedures.

Growing Issue of Child Labor Violations

The tragedy at Florence Hardwoods is not an isolated incident but part of a larger trend of children and teens working in hazardous jobs meant for adults. The Labor Department's investigations found an alarming increase in child labor violations, with approximately 5,800 kids illegally employed in hazardous jobs, representing an 88% increase since 2019. These violations are a clear violation of federal laws aimed at protecting minors.

Rising Concerns and Changing Trends

The nature of child labor violations has evolved over the years, with a shift towards minors working in potentially dangerous jobs such as manufacturing facilities and meat processing plants. This modern-day problem in the United States raises serious concerns as it exposes young individuals to hazardous tasks and dangerous equipment, contrary to labor laws and regulations.

Factors Contributing to the Rise in Child Labor

Several factors have contributed to the troubling increase in child labor, including the influx of migrant children, weakening of child labor regulations in certain states, and the challenges posed by a tight labor market. Moreover, the use of outside staffing firms by employers has created a level of insulation, making it harder to hold them accountable for child labor violations.

Enforcement and Penalties

While the Labor Department has imposed fines on businesses for employing minors, the current penalties are often viewed as a cost of doing business for larger employers. The maximum civil monetary penalty for a child labor violation is $15,138 per child, which some businesses readily pay, highlighting the need for stronger deterrents to prevent child labor violations.

Tragic Consequences and Call for Action

The case of Michael Schuls serves as a poignant reminder of the devastating consequences of child labor in hazardous jobs. His untimely death underscores the critical need for stricter enforcement of child labor laws and heightened awareness of the risks associated with allowing minors to engage in dangerous work. The tragic loss of young lives demands urgent action to safeguard the well-being of minors in the workforce.