Mass.: New Law Aims to Boost Teen Safety

Now-former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Jan. 3 signed into law a bill that supporters say will strengthen the state's child labor protections for the first time since the Great Depression.

According to Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), the measure is a groundbreaking effort to promote safe employment opportunities for teens.

"Teens face dangers in the workplace today unanticipated by the framers of the original child labor laws in the 1930s," Goldstein-Gelb said. "This is a new century with new issues."

The new law:

  • Will empower the state attorney general to impose civil fines on offending employers;
  • Calls for adult supervision of under-18 workers after 8 p.m.; and
  • Extends the hours minors can work on non-school nights from 10 to 11:30 p.m. The law will keep intact exemptions for restaurants and racetracks, where teens can work until midnight.

Veronica Monteiro, a 17-year-old peer leader in the group Teens Lead @ Work – a program launched by MassCOSH – was one of the many teen advocates who worked on the bill. Her mother, Maggie Carey, lost her 16-year-old son in a work-related accident and since then has become an advocate for young worker safety.

According to Monteiro, the new measure will discourage employers from breaking the law.

"…This bill will help keep teens in Massachusetts safe by making the law real, not just something written and ignored," Monteiro said.

The bill received support from state House and Senate leadership as well as from state Labor and Workforce Development co-chairs Sen. Thomas McGee and Rep. Michael Rodrigues.

Bill Targets Workplace Violence, Firearms

According to MassCOSH, one of the teens' main areas of concern was violent crime in the workplace. The bill requires that teens working after 8 p.m. be provided with adult supervision on site, thus reducing their vulnerability to robbery and assault.

Also included in the bill is a section prohibiting minors from working in jobs that require them to carry a firearm.

Half of the 16- and 17-year-olds in Massachusetts work each year, which is above the national average of 31 percent, MassCOSH said. In addition, the group reported that almost 1,000 teenagers visit emergency rooms each year with work-related injuries.

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