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Published: Wednesday, 3/16/2005

Work-safety rules for teens tightened

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Fourteen-year-olds and 15-year-olds can operate deep fat fryers if the equipment automatically lowers and raises the baskets filled with french fries and other foods, but anyone younger than 18 can't deliver pizzas.

Those are a couple of rules governing workers under 18 that were altered recently by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Before the latest rules went into effect, for example, young teens could use any deep-fat fryers as long as they were in "plain view of the public," an outdated reference harking back to the era of "light cooking" done at soda fountains and snack bars, according to the department.

And although 17-year-olds previously were allowed to drive for work during the day under limited conditions - such as occasional runs incidental to a job and not involving time-sensitive trips - pizza deliveries were not spelled out as prohibited until last month's changes.

Fifteen-year-old Katie Chase works in concessions at National Amusements Inc.'s Showcase Cinemas at Town Center at Levis Commons in Perrysburg. She fills orders for popcorn, hamburgers, french fries, and other snacks.

National Amusements officials haven't talked to employees about the federal rule changes, and the Perrysburg teen hopes to wait until she is a little older to operate equipment to make the food.

"I would like it to stay the same," she said. The company did not have a spokesman available for comment.

Under the new federal rules, 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds can load scrap paper balers and box compactors, but still can't operate or unload those machines.

Those under 18 working in roofing occupations previously couldn't toil on roofs, and now they can't work on the ground near a construction project unless they are in an apprenticeship or similar program.

But the single biggest number of changes occurred for 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds working in food service. They still can't bake or even mix ingredients, but they can use grills that don't have an open flame and are out of customers' sight, and they can clean kitchen surfaces and non-power-driven equipment that has cooled.

Still, some restaurants, including Wendy's and Steak n Shake, don't hire teens younger than 16, officials said.

It has been Wendy's International Inc.'s policy since the early 1990s not to hire younger teens because of the limited hours they can work and other similar issues, not the tasks they can perform, a spokesman said. The recent changes aren't likely to change that, she added.

At McDonald's corporate-owned restaurants, 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds make up a small percentage of the work force, and the federal changes won't have a significant impact on the chain's hiring, said Bill Whitman, a spokesman for McDonald's USA.

McDonald's abides by applicable federal and state laws and is concerned about maintaining a safe working environment, he said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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