Aug 4, 2010

12 year olds at work: cuts, strains, dislocations and fractures


Last month the Medical Officer of Health for the Sea to Sky Region published an article in a Squamish newspaper raising his concerns about child labour in British Columbia.

In his column Dr. Paul Martiquet reports that in BC the minimum age for working a regular job is 12 – the lowest of any jurisdiction in North America.  This resulted from changes in the Employment Standards Act in 2003.  Before that anyone under the age of 16 required permission from the government to work.

Now the Employment Standards Branch no longer keeps track of where children work.  All that is required is the permission of one parent and most parents have little or no knowledge of the dangers on a work site.

WorkSafeBC does keep track of injuries and Dr. Martiquet reported a tenfold increase in injury claims among 12 to 14 year olds between 2005 and 2008.

This is not the first report on increasing injuries among children on the job.  Last October the BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition published a report on the subject.  Cuts are the most common type of injury for children followed strains, dislocations and fractures.  Most of the children are reported to be working in accommodation and food services but some work in genuinely dangerous industries such as agriculture, and construction.

WorkSafeBC told the CBC that the tenfold increase in injured children to 2008 had declined in 2009 to a fivefold increase thanks to the failing economy.  Apparently things were so bad in 2009 employers could no longer afford to hire as many 12 year olds at the $6 sub-minimum wage. 

The news about injured children should not come as a surprise.  In 2004 Helesia Luke and Graeme Moore published a report for the CCPA that looked at the implications of reduced regulation for child labour.  The report looked at education and the exploitation as well as health and safety issues.

Helesia and Moore pointed out that young workers between the ages of 15 and 24 were already far more likely to be injured than other workers for a variety of reasons including inexperience and lack of training.  They concluded:

It is logical to assume that children under 15 will be at least, if not more, affected by the same characteristics that increase the risk of injury to those 15–24. An increase in the number of children working, without an increase in training or supervision, may lead to many more job related injuries, especially when there are no prohibitions against children working in hazardous occupations.

Dr. Martiquet concluded his column with the following: 

It seems strange that children can be used to fill jobs in this way.  Age 12?  Age 13? When will they get to be children?  B.C. should honour the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: the minimum work age should not be lower than the age for finishing compulsory schooling (15 typically), children may do only light work as long as it does not threaten their health, safety or hinder their education and training.

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