A Wisconsin sawmill is in hot water with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) following the death of a teen worker who was operating dangerous equipment in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
An investigation was opened by the DOL Wage and Hour Division after it learned that the 16-year-old worker suffered severe injuries on June 29, 2023. The teen died two days later.
The investigation into Florence Hardwoods LLC also revealed that:
- three children ages 15 to 16 were injured in November 2021, July 2022 and March 2023 with one of them suffering injuries on two separate occasions
- nine children ages 14 to 17 were illegally employed to operate hazardous equipment such as chop saws, rip saws and other automated machinery used to process lumber, and
- seven children ages 14 to 15 were allowed to work outside of legally permitted hours.
Employer, 2 customers placed under ‘hot goods’ provision
This led the Wage and Hour Division to invoke the “hot goods” provision of the FLSA, which forbids shipment or delivery of goods produced in violation of the child labor laws. Prohibition on shipping hot goods isn’t limited to employers who initially produce products but also applies to any producer, manufacturer or dealer who later receives them.
The agency alerted two of Florence Hardwoods’ customers that they possessed goods that were subject to the hot goods provision. Both customers agreed to refrain from shipping or delivering the hot goods until the sawmill’s legal matters were resolved.
“Florence Hardwoods risked the life of a child by allowing him to operate dangerous equipment in violation of federal child labor laws, and now family, friends and co-workers are left to grieve,” said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda. “The Solicitor’s office will use all legal tools available to combat child labor, including placing pressure on supply chains to hold their suppliers accountable.”
Company agrees to $190K fine, fires all employees under 18
Following the teen worker’s death, Florence Hardwoods terminated all of its employees under the age of 18 and later verified to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Green Bay Division that no one under that age is now employed at the company.
Florence Hardwoods agreed to pay $190,696 in fines, resulting in the hot goods provision being lifted. The sawmill also agreed to:
- place signage warning children not to enter the mill and planer buildings at the facility
- use the Wage and Hour Division’s Youth Employment Compliance Assistance Toolkit to identify materials for use in training employees
- audit machinery and label machines with stickers warning that workers must be 18 years of age or older to operate legally
- provide employees with fact sheets on child labor
- not hire anyone under the age of 16, and
- strictly comply with federal requirements for apprentice or student learners between the ages of 16 and 18 and inform the Wage and Hour Division before hiring them.