Youth Face a Higher Risk for Injuries in the Workplace
Nobody ever forgets their first job. Regardless if you were a cashier at a grocery store, running a drive-thru window at a fast food restaurant, or folding clothes at a department store, you’ll always remember the excitement that came with getting that first paycheck and officially becoming part of the workforce. But one thing most people never consider when taking that first job is the risk for workplace injuries.
In 2013, workers under the age of 24 represented 13% of the American workforce. Despite the fact that young workers tend to hold part time or temporary positions, the injury rate for workers under 25 was nearly twice as high as it was for older workers. Every year, approximately 30 workers under the age of 18 die as a result of workplace injuries and 27,000 workers are injured badly enough to require a trip to the emergency room.
Just because teens and other young workers typically hold very entry-level positions, that doesn’t mean they’re not at risk for workplace injuries. Young workers are often required to do things like lift heavy boxes, work with hot cooking equipment, use potentially-dangerous tools, and work in environments with slippery floors. Unfortunately, since younger workers tend to work fewer hours and stay with the company for shorter amounts of time, many employers cut corners on properly training young workers on workplace safety measures. Between a lack of safety training and pressure to keep up with fast-paced, stressful environments, it’s very easy for young workers to be hurt on the job.
In some cases, young workers get hurt when employers pressure them to do things that the worker legally isn’t allowed to be doing. There are many special laws that apply to teen workers, such as how old workers need to be, how much they need to be paid, and how many hours they can work. But there are also rules about what types of tasks they can do. Workers who are 14 or 15 can only legally work in jobs that are specifically allowed by law. There are several specific jobs that are illegal for any worker under the age of 18 to do, but generally speaking, workers who are 16 or 17 can hold any job that isn’t considered hazardous. Even if a 16 or 17 year old has a driver’s license, they are not legally allowed to drive a motor vehicle as part of their job. Different rules apply to agricultural jobs.
If you are a teen looking to get your first job or are the parent of a teen who wants a job, know that employers have a responsibility to abide by U.S. labor laws and provide employees with adequate training and a safe working environment. The worker’s age does not give the employer the right to put worker safety on the line. Teens and other young workers are protected by the same workplace safety laws and regulations that apply to workers of all other ages.
Before you or your teen accepts a job, one of the best things you can do is take some time to research young workers’ rights. OSHA and YouthRules have some excellent resources on the subject. Parents, be sure to be ask your teen lots of questions about their job and what sorts of things they do at work, particularly about training and supervision. If you have reason to believe your teen is being forced to work in dangerous conditions, contact your local OSHA office. You have a right to speak up.