February 21, 2024

What to Know About SB 460/HB 917’s Child Labor Provisions

Note: This publication is based on the bills in their current forms as of the date of publication.

Legislation moving in the Senate and House (SB 460/HB 917) would alter career education and workforce development policies to encourage more Floridians to work in skilled trades. The primary concern with SB 460/HB 917 lies in its push for more 16- and 17-year-olds to work in building construction without proper training and safety guardrails. The building construction industry includes several jobs the U.S. Department of Labor deems too hazardous for minors of any age, including working on roofs and in all roofing operations (e.g., roofing help and materials handling on the ground).[1]

As amended, both bills state that teens would be allowed to work in residential building construction if they:

  • are not working at heights above 6 feet[2];
  • have an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-10 certification;
  • are supervised by someone 21+ with two years of experience and an OSHA-10 certification; and
  • are not doing work that violates the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, or any other federal child labor laws.[3]  

However, because much of the legislation’s language is vague or contradictory, SB 460/HB 917 still risks violating federal law and putting Florida teens’ safety at risk. The Legislature should consider amending or removing these child labor provisions altogether.

Construction is Dangerous—Especially for Teens

Legally, 16- and 17-year-olds can already work in building construction jobs that are not deemed hazardous (e.g., painting, installing siding, power washing, administrative work).[4] SB 460/HB 917 proposes changes to the law regulating hazardous jobs in this sector.[5] The reason the federal government deems construction hazardous with restrictions for minors is that it is one of the most dangerous industries, and roofing in particular has the highest number of worker fatalities. Further, young workers have much greater job injury rates than older workers — especially in construction, which is why these age restrictions exist.

Adolescent workplace injuries may have lifelong health and economic impacts. Up to 26 percent of minors who were injured on the job report having permanent complications, like chronic pain or limited mobility. Moreover, falls are the leading cause of death on construction sites. Falls can — and do — still happen at or below 6 feet (which is the maximum height that teens would be able to work from under SB 460/HB 917). Most youth construction fatalities occur in the South, so weakening standards in Florida would only make this grim trend worse.

Working at Heights Is Not the Only Concern

The Senate bill originally would have allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to work on roofs and ladders above 6 feet, and the House bill would have allowed teens to work in both residential and commercial construction. Positively, both bills were amended. They both now restrict the work to residential building construction that does not involve working on any “scaffolding, roof, superstructure, or ladder above 6 feet.” They also now state that work that violates the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) would not be allowed. Still, both bills appear to leave the door open for teens to work in other hazardous roles.

Here, the distinction between working on a roof and working in any roofing operations is important to point out. Even though SB 460 and HB 917 now include a 6-foot height restriction[6] that precludes working on roofs, the bills do not restrict working in roofing-related operations (e.g. on ladders or scaffolding near roofs under 6 feet; gutter and downspout work; assisting roofers with materials like hot tar). However, the FLSA is unequivocal about prohibiting anyone under 18 from working in any roofing operations— whether they are on a roof or the ground. Thus, even with SB 460/HB 917’s FLSA caveat, the legislation may confuse employers, putting them at risk of violating federal law and as a result, facing stiff penalties for endangering teen workers.[7]

The only exception to the federal ban on youth working in roofing and other hazardous occupations is if the teen is in a federally approved apprentice or student learner program that abides by strict rules for training, standards, and intense supervision. The OSHA-10 certification and supervision proposed by SB 460/HB 917 do not meet these rules. Thus, the federal government will still enforce the FLSA if this legislation is enacted, not letting Florida employers off the hook for lower standards. The federal government said as much when Iowa proposed similar child labor rollbacks last year.

Lax Building Construction Laws Would Endanger 16- and 17-Year-Olds

There are already gaps between federal and state child labor laws, so it is important to make sure Florida teens are protected with the changes the Legislature is proposing. The most relevant federal law to child labor is the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA). To be subject to the FLSA, a company (or “enterprise”) must do more than $500,000 a year in business.

Yet, the most recent Census data show that 35,067 construction companies in Florida fall below this $500,000 threshold. Thus, a majority of Florida’s nearly 63,000 construction enterprises are not necessarily bound by the FLSA referenced in SB 460/HB  917.[8] Some teens working for these small enterprises could still be protected by the FLSA’s “individual coverage” if they engage in interstate commerce. Their numbers cannot be easily quantified, but it is unlikely that the residential building work teens would be doing qualifies as “interstate commerce.” In practice, SB 460/HB 917 could lead thousands of small construction companies to hire teens for dangerous roofing work with little oversight.

Furthermore, OSHA—the other federal entity referenced in both bills—does not regulate child labor as the FLSA does. Its role is to set safety standards and protocols for workers of all ages to prevent their harm or death while on the job. As mentioned, the OSHA-10 certification and vague supervision language proposed by SB 460/HB 917 for teens who would be working in these precarious situations do not meet acceptable safety requirements. OSHA guidance warns, “It is important to note that this is a voluntary program and does not meet training requirements for any OSHA standards.” Concerningly, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows there is just one direct supervisor available for every seven construction and extraction trade workers in Florida. As such, SB 460/HB 917’s OSHA and FLSA fallbacks are not enough to ensure teens are shielded from dangerous roofing work.

State Leaders Should Remove or Amend the Child Labor Provisions in SB 460/HB 917

It is commendable that the state is prioritizing increasing skilled trades in the Sunshine State; however, it should not come at the expense of children’s health, safety, and lives. The language in these bills that allows teens to work in hazardous construction jobs (i.e., near roofing, roofing help on the ground) must be changed — if not removed outright.

There are several ways that lawmakers could make the legislation less harmful for teens and remain compliant with federal law:

  • Clarify that that no Florida employer, regardless of size, would be allowed to employ minors in any roofing operations (outside of an approved apprentice or student-learner program). Vague language leaves the intent of the law open to interpretation and will confuse employers and endanger teens.
  • Require the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) to update its child labor resources to include guides for teens, parents, and employers on which occupations listed in the North American Industry Classification System are legally allowed for 16- and 17-year-olds working in building construction (under state and federal law); allot additional funding for increased DBPR enforcement of these new provisions.
  • Strengthen the supervision and training requirements listed in the bill so that they align with minimum federal safety standards.


[1] The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) includes 60 different construction and extraction occupations within the residential and nonresidential building construction industries — roofer is one of them. Industries deemed too hazardous for minors by the U.S. Department of Labor include: working in roofing and any work performed on or about a roof; working in excavation or backfilling trenches; and operating motor vehicles; power-driven woodworking machines; power-driven hoisting apparatus; power-driven saws; guillotine shears; abrasive cutting discs; and power-driven compactors or balers. See how the FLSA defines roofing operations and “on or about” a roof here.

[2] HB 917 originally would have allowed these teens to work “on any residential or commercial building construction or ladder at or below six feet,” while SB 460 originally allowed for heights above 6 feet,. Both bills were amended in their first hearings. They now have identical child labor language and restrict the work to residential building construction that does not involve working on any “scaffolding, roof, superstructure, or ladder above 6 feet.”

[3] Reference to the FLSA was not in the original bills; bill sponsors amended both (with identical language), due to advocacy efforts that highlighted the FLSA’s ban on teens working in roofing operations. See SB 460 and HB 917’s second committee substitutes (c2).

[4] See Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), “Child Labor FAQs” and U.S. Department of Labor, “Field Operations Handbook,” sections 33(d), (g), and (h), revised August 10, 2016.

[5] Both bills amend the language of Fla. Stat. 450.161(b), which bans minors from working on a “scaffolding, roof, superstructure, residential or nonresidential building construction, or ladder above 6 feet.” Federal law also bans working in roofing or on scaffolding or ladders above 6 feet. For comparison between state and federal law, see DBPR “Child Labor Laws, The State of Florida and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA),” revised May 16, 2016.

[6] HB 917 originally would have allowed these teens to work “on any residential or commercial building construction or ladder at or below six feet,” while SB 460 originally allowed for heights above 6 feet. Both bills were amended in their first hearings. They now have identical child labor language and restrict the work to residential building construction that does not involve working on any “scaffolding, roof, superstructure, or ladder above 6 feet.”

[7] Employers are subject to up to $11,000 per employee involved in a child labor violation; up to $50,000 for each violation that causes death or serious injury of a minor; and up to $100,000 for repeat or willful violations. Criminal actions are also possible. See U.S. Department of Labor, “FLSA — Child Labor Rules Advisor, Enforcement.”

[8] FPI analysis of U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Business Survey data for 2021 (latest year available) shows there are 35,067 construction firms (NAICS code – 23) in Florida with sales/receipts under $500,000 out of 62,809 total Florida construction firms. The Census Bureau does not disaggregate this data further (e.g., residential building construction firms).

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