Question of the Week

June 13, 2005


Whether they work all year, or just in the summer, many teens are spending more hours trying to earn some money now that school is out.

"Research surveys of students and parents suggest that 70% to 80% of teens have worked for pay at some time during their high school years. Between 1996 and 1998, a monthly average of 2.9 million workers aged 15 to 17 worked during school months, and 4.0 million worked during summer months. Workers aged 15 to 17 spend the most work hours in food preparation and service jobs, stock handler or laborer jobs, administrative support jobs, and farming, forestry, or fishing jobs."

Teens find work in many industries, doing a wide variety of jobs. Different jobs bring different risks, and all jobs require some level of care and common sense.

"'The updated NIOSH [The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health] bulletin is a reminder that serious and often fatal injuries among working teens are all too prevalent, and that all of us have vital roles in preventing those risks.' The new Alert contains several recent case studies that illustrate the range of industries and occupations in which teen workers have suffered occupational injuries, including incidents in which 1) a 17-year-old laborer was crushed when the forklift he was operating overturned, 2) a 16-year-old restaurant cashier was fatally shot in the head during a robbery attempt, 3) a 15-year-old was suffocated in a corn bin while working on his family's farm, and 4) a 17-year-old volunteer junior fire fighter died in a traffic crash while responding to a call...."

Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents.

"The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) requests assistance in preventing deaths, injuries, and illnesses among young workers. An average of 67 workers under age 18 died from work-related injuries each year during 1992�2000. In 1998, an estimated 77,000 required treatment in hospital emergency rooms. ..."

Without a high school education, much less a college degree, the opportunities available to many teens seeking employment are limited.

"Many adolescents with jobs are employed in retail operations, including fast-food restaurants, grocery stores, and other stores. Service industries, including nursing homes, swimming pools, amusement parks, and moving companies, account for another large portion of teen labor. And a smaller number of teens who work are employed in the agricultural industry. There are also entrepreneurial activities your teen might try, such as babysitting, delivering newspapers, and dog walking. ... Of course, almost all jobs offer hidden safety hazards ..."

While teens are also less likely than some more experienced workers to know what is expected of them and what their rights are, they are also more likely to have stricter laws governing what they can and cannot do as part of a job.

"Try contacting the department of labor in your state. Among the things you'll find out from the labor department are: the number of hours teens can work, the hours of the day when they can work, and the types of jobs they shouldn't do. For example, in some states teens under age 16 may not be allowed to operate deli slicers or fryers in restaurants. And some teens under age 18 may not be allowed to work past 10:00 PM on school nights."

Different ages bring different rules and regulations. Some federal laws apply, and some very state to state.

"If you're younger than 18, you are not allowed to:
* Drive a motor vehicle as a regular part of the job or operate a forklift at any time
* Operate many types of powered equipment, such as a box crusher, meat slicer or circular saw
* Work in wrecking, demolition, excavation or roofing
* Work in mining, logging or a sawmill
* Work in meat-packing or slaughtering
* Work where there is exposure to radiation
* Work where explosives are manufactured or stored.

"Also, if you're 14 or 15, you may not do the following activities:
* Bake or cook on the job (except at a serving counter)
* Operate power-driven machinery (except certain types that pose little hazard, such as those used in offices)
* Work on a ladder or scaffold
* Work in warehouses
* Work in construction, building or manufacturing
* Load or unload a truck, railroad car or conveyor belt

"If you're younger than 14, there are even stricter laws to protect your health and safety."

No matter how old you are:
"By law, your employer must provide a safe and healthful
workplace that is free of hazards and sexual harassment. Your employer should also provide safety and health training. You have the right to refuse to work if the job is immediately dangerous to your life or health. If you feel unsafe or think your rights have been violated, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor. Remember, it's illegal for your employer to fire you or punish you for reporting a workplace hazard."

Why are the laws as strict as they are? Why do they make such a big deal about it? Teens are just trying to earn money like everyone else, why make it more difficult to them to work?

"* Young workers may not be trained to perform assigned tasks safely.
* Young workers may be assigned to perform incidental tasks for which they have no training or experience, or they may take it upon themselves to perform these tasks. * Young workers may not be adequately supervised.
* Young workers lack the experience and maturity needed to recognize and deal with injury hazards. More specifically, they may not yet have a sufficient understanding of work processes to recognize hazardous situations.
* Young workers may not have the training or experience to handle emergencies or injuries.
* Young workers, their employers, and parents may disregard or be unaware of child labor laws that specify the jobs and the hours that young workers may not work."

What could possibly go wrong?

"* 18-year-old Sylvia caught her hand in an electric cabbage shredder at a fast food restaurant. Her hand is permanently disfigured and she'll never have full use of it again.
* 17-year-old Joe lost his life while working as a construction helper. An electric shock killed him when he climbed a metal ladder to hand an electric drill to another worker.
*16-year-old Donna was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint at a sandwich shop. She was working alone after 11 p.m.

"Why do injuries like these occur? Teens are often injured on the job due to unsafe equipment, stressful conditions, and speed-up. Also teens may not receive adequate safety training and supervision. As a teen, you are much more likely to be injured when working on jobs that you are not allowed to do by law."

"As a teen, you are much more likely to be injured when working on jobs that you are not allowed to do by law."

The laws are there to help keep teens safe, but laws can only do so much. What can teens do?

"To work safely you should keep in mind the following:
* Follow all safety rules.
* Use safety equipment and wear protective clothing when needed.
* Keep work areas clean and neat.
* Know what to do in an emergency.
* Report any health and safety hazards to your supervisor."

Questions of the Week:
What do teens need to know before they look for jobs? What information should teens research before beginning a new job? How can teens keep themselves safe while working? What should teens do if they suspect a dangerous situation at their place of employment? What should teens do if they feel proper safety precautions are not being taken by their employers, or those they work with? How can teens find out what their rights and responsibilities are in any given job? How could the answers to these questions be different if adults were involved, as opposed to teens?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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