“For teenagers,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan, “a summer job is a chance to earn money for college or polish work skills before entering the workforce full time. Unfortunately, these jobs are also opportunities to get hurt, and, as parents and potentially as co-workers, we need to pay attention and provide effective support.”
Lack of experience and training is one reason for injuries. All workers, but especially those in temporary positions like the ones that proliferate during summer, are at risk for not receiving information and training that equips them to conduct jobs safely. Reluctance to question authority or to speak up about dangerous situations due to insecurity about employment status – not unusual when jobs are temporary – is another. Every year, job-related incidents kill nearly 70 workers under the age of 18 and send another 84,000 to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.
“When your teen gets that first job, whether a summer job or after-school, you should find time to discuss the risks,” says O’Sullivan. “Make sure that they know to ask their supervisor for guidance if they’re not sure how to do the task or if it seems dangerous. Tell them to talk to you if they feel uncomfortable with the response. The risks are real and should not be ignored.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fatal injuries classified by industry indicate that, during 2003–2007, the greatest number of fatal injuries among younger workers occurred in services (32 percent), construction (28 percent), wholesale and retail trade (ten percent), and agriculture (ten percent) industry sectors. Younger workers experienced the highest rates of fatal injury in mining (36.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE), agriculture (21.3 per 100,000 FTE), and construction (10.9 per 100,000 FTE).
In the hope of reducing these numbers, the Department of Labor (DOL) recently revised its child labor laws. Assuming a collective bargaining agreements allow teens to work in construction, prohibitions regarding employment of youth under the age of 18 years that affect the industry include:
- Riding on a forklift as a passenger
- Operating certain power-driven hoists and work assist vehicles
- Operating balers and compacters designed or used for non-paper products
- Operating power-driven chain saws, wood chippers, reciprocating saws and abrasive cutting discs
OSHA’s teen worker website can help keep working teens safe and productive. The website explains youth employee rights as well as employer obligations. It also offers guidance to parents. To protect their teens, parents must be familiar with work plans, possible hazards and child labor laws. NIOSH’s Young Worker Safety and Health website also provides information including a state-by-state breakdown of child labor laws and companion videos.
Additional teen employment information is also available on the DOL Wage-Hour website and by calling the DOL’s Wage-Hour toll-free helpline at 1-866-4US-WAGE (1-866-487-9243).
[Janet Lubman Rathner]