Seeking income, new skills, social contact, resume padding and – did we say? – income, American teenagers have begun the annual search for summer employment.

For many, it is a first job; for others, it is the first time doing new job tasks.  For the most part, teens are inexperienced workers.  Perhaps that is why about 70 are killed each year in work-related tragedies.

OSHA Youth Rules!*

What Jobs Can I Do?

When you are younger than 14…
You can baby-sit, deliver newspapers or work as an actor or performer.

When you turn 14…
You can work in an office, grocery store, retail store, restaurant, movie theater or amusement park.

When you turn 16…
You can work in any job that is not hazardous.  Youth cannot work in mining, logging, meatpacking, roofing, excavation or demolition.  You cannot drive a car or forklift.  You cannot work with saws, explosives, radioactive materials or most power-driven machines.

After 18…
In employment, you are considered an adult.

And When?

If you are 14 or 15…
During a school week, you can work outside school hours, after 7:00 am and until 7:00 pm.  You can work three hours on a school day and 18 hours in a school week.  During the summer, you can work until 9:00 pm, eight hours a day and 40 hours a week.

If you are 16 or older…
You can work any hours.

*State rules may vary.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is concerned about these unnecessary deaths and the many other injuries endured by young Americans.  Last year, it launched a national Teen Safety Campaign which continued this year with a kick-off event April 17 at the Thomas Edison High School of Technology in Montgomery County, Maryland.  This year, the campaign highlights summer work in the construction industry.

Alternate description

LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

“It’s only natural that the children of LIUNA members want to follow them into the industry,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, “and the summer job is where many of them start.  We all know it’s critical that we teach these future Laborers members to be safe on the job.”

On a first job, youthful inexperience can be compounded by feelings of invincibility that many teens enjoy, mainly because they are too young and inexperienced to know any better.  Also, teens are often not prepared to speak up to authority figures and may not challenge unsafe work conditions.  This is why parents, educators, employers and co-workers all have important roles to play in fostering the growth of youthful maturity to ensure a safe and productive experience.

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LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman
Armand E. Sabitoni

“We know a thing or two about young people working towards a career in construction,” says the LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman, LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and New England Regional Manager Armand E. Sabitoni, offering support to the OSHA teen campaign.  “The New England Laborers co-founded the New England Laborers’/Cranston Public Schools Construction Career Academy and also created the Construction Craft Laborers Program at Medford Vocational Technical High School.  Since 2002, the New England Laborers have been training students to move from high school into the construction industry.  We encourage teens to investigate work in construction, to master safety on the job and to speak up if they encounter unsafe conditions.”

OSHA has created a Teen Workers website that answers questions for teens, provides guidance to parents, educators and employers and reiterates the right of workers to a safe workplace.  The site stresses that parents should take an active role in their children’s decisions about summer work and familiarize themselves with government regulations on child labor.  In the area of safety, the site urges parents to discuss possible hazards with their teens and, if necessary, support them in reporting dangers to managers.  With regard to construction in particular, OSHA’s April QuickTakes newsletter recommends that teens wear the following personal protective equipment:  gloves, hard hat, earplugs, boots with safety toes and safety glasses.

For many teens, that summer job paycheck – money! – is their first glimmer of the benefits of steady work.  Nevertheless, the path to adolescent maturity has its fair share of obstacles and danger.  Paying close attention to on-the-job safety and health is an important step in the right direction.

[Steve Clark]