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Friday, March 6, 2015

Violation of Child Labor Laws Can Be Heartbreaking

By: Tommy Eden

Owner of John Wilkes Tree Service 

On August 13, 2013, 14-year-old Blake Bryant was working for John Wilkes Tree Service at a residential location in Middleburg Florida up a 71 foot pine tree when his climbing harness was severed, causing him to fall 49 feet to the dirt driveway below. Blake had climbed the pine tree and began to block off a 16 feet portion of the trunk, but due to the weight of the block, it reportedly began to fall faster than he anticipated.

According to Court records, Investigators for the Clay County Florida Sherriff’s determined that Blake died as a direct result of the gross and culpable negligence of his employer in that there was no secondary safety harness, a common practice in this occupation and could have prevented the fall, and that the fact that his employer violated Florida Child Labor law, which prohibits the employment of minors under the age of 18 in a logging occupation. Other Child Labor violations included allowing Blake to operate power-driven machinery, working on scaffolding, roofs or ladders above 6 feet tall. Blake’s normal duties included moving limbs and branches and his family had no idea that he was climbing trees.

The tree service owner later plead guilty to charges of aggravated manslaughter of a child and was sentenced on February 6 to 15 years in prison.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted a separate investigation which commence the very day of the fall and cited John Wilkes Tree Service for a general duty clause violation for failing to maintain a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. OSHA proposed a fine of $10,900.

Common Sense Counsel: There is a reason they are called children. The laws of every state grants them special protections from taking hazardous jobs and Alabama mandates a posting at all places of employment. In Alabama the law prohibits youths from working in occupations or places of employment, which could be harmful to their health or moral well being. Children 14 or 15 years of age may not be employed in any manufacturing or mechanical establishment, cannery, mill, woodshop, warehouse, or machine shop. Persons umder16 years of age are prohibited from 17 different occupations in Alabama including; operating any sandpaper or wood polishing machinery, washing, grinding or mixing machinery or commercial laundry, ginning type machines, machine shop, where there is unguarded gearing, upon a vessel engaged in commerce, in the manufacture of lead based paints, where there are large quantities of dust, soldering, welding or heat treating, working at heights exceeding 6 feet, junk or scarp metal yards, flagging traffic, lumberyard and selling of fireworks. See 25-8-35 Code of Alabama for detailed list.

Likewise, in Alabama there is a list of 25 prohibited occupations and places for person 18 years of age or younger can not work. See 25-8-43 Code of Alabama for detailed list.

So next time you are thinking about using cheap young southern labor, make sure you will not put their life and your liberty at risk by not knowing Alabama’s Child Labor Laws.

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at or 334-246-2901. Blog at with links to laws and Alabama Child Labor Law Poster and follow on twitter tommyeden3