Workplace Safety Tips for Teen Workers

Young workers are not as prepared and experienced as older adults when it comes to identifying and avoiding safety risks and hazards while on the job and are more apt to be injured. However, by adhering to laws governing teen workers, and by taking some precautions and conducting adequate training, teen workers can have a safe, productive, profitable summer.

Across the country, organizations and state governments are in the process of making teen workers aware of workplace safety risks. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) developed the free "Workplace Safety Guide for New Workers" brochure. It contains key state and federal contact information, important facts to know and workplace safety questions workers and parents should ask. For a free copy of the brochure, call (847) 699-2929 or e-mail [email protected]

In Washington state, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is urging employers to help protect kids by making job safety a priority and is reacquainting employers with workplace safety rules governing teen workers.

"Most young people entering the workplace are not as sensitive to risks associated with the job as they should be," ASSE Practice Specialty Administrator Carmen Daecher, CSP, ARM, said. "This might be a function of age, or it is a lack of appreciation of the responsibilities associated with a job and a career. It is vitally important that employers help new employees understand risks associated with the job and their responsibilities in minimizing or eliminating these risks while performing their jobs, not just for their benefit but for the benefit of fellow employees and others."

Teens are twice as likely to suffer a workplace injury as adults, according to L&I research. Inappropriate supervision, poor training and dangerous equipment are often factors in those injuries.

"Young people often begin summer jobs with a sense of excitement and a desire to prove themselves, but with little knowledge of critical safety practices," said L&I Director Paul Trause. "We must work together to make sure our children are safe as they learn about the world of work."

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) the main causes for young worker fatalities are homicides, motor vehicle accidents, machine-related accidents, electrocution and falls. Unsafe equipment, stressful work conditions, inadequate safety training, inadequate supervision, dangerous work that is illegal or inappropriate for youth workers and rushing are the top causes of injuries to young workers.

In 2000, a total of 70 teen workers in the United States were fatally injured on the job and 77,000 more were seriously injured. Although most of those injuries are burns, cuts, and sprains, other serious injuries include broken bones, concussions and amputations.

Teens and their parents should become familiar with state and federal laws pertaining to youth labor. For instance, some duties teens may be prohibited by law from doing include driving, roofing, working with power-driven machines, working more than 10 feet above ground or floor level, and working at jobs with possible exposure to bodily fluids or hazardous substances.

"In construction areas and in busy loading and unloading warehouse facilities new workers must, more than anything else, learn to remain attentive," ASSE's Daecher said. "Too often, their minds wander or they watch what others do. Young workers must learn to be aware of the risks around them. In that way, they can remain safe throughout the workday and help their fellow employees remain safe."

For young workers, agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries to work in. Forty percent of the young workers killed from 1992-97 lost their lives in farming jobs. Agriculture hazards include working with heavy machinery, falls from working at unprotected heights, flying objects and natural hazards.

According to the DOL, the food service/fast food, retail/sales, janitorial/clean-up and office/clerical industries are the next most hazardous industries for teen workers. In the food service industry, the hazards include violent crimes, sharp objects, hot cooking equipment and slippery floors. Violent crimes and heavy lifting are the top retail/sales industry hazards to teens. Hazardous cleaning chemicals, slippery floors, heavy lifting and blood on discarded needles are the top janitorial/clean-up industry hazards. Repetitive trauma from consistent typing, back and neck strain and stress are hazards associated with office jobs for teens.

Efforts to curb teen-worker injuries in recent years by businesses, labor unions, schools, governmental agencies and other organizations have paid off in Washington state. Reported injuries for minors dropped nearly a third during the past decade. From 1992 to 2002, L&I accepted about 27,000 claims for work-related injuries to minors, in both agricultural and non-agricultural jobs. Seven teens died from work-related injuries during that time.

In the state of Washington, employers who want to hire teens need a minor work endorsement for their master business license, and a parent authorization form for the teen's work hours and job assignments.

Here are some of the other state rules for employers who hire teenage workers:

  • In general, 14- and 15-year-olds may perform lighter tasks such as office work, cashiering and stocking shelves, bagging and carrying groceries, janitorial and grounds maintenance (without operating power mowers or cutters) and Work assignments for 16- and 17-year-olds can be less restrictive. Their jobs may include such things as cooking, baking, landscaping, window washing (no more than 10 feet off the ground), maintenance and repair and amusement-park work.
  • As a general rule, the state cautions if safety equipment other than a hard hat, eye protection or gloves is required to do the job, then it's not an appropriate job for minors.
  • Fourteen- and 15-year-olds can work up to 40 hours a week while school is not in session; 16- and 17-year-olds can work up to 48 hours a week.
  • Agricultural rules prohibit all minors from working with certain chemicals, pesticides and explosives, and in other hazardous jobs. Additional restrictions, including operating equipment, apply to minors under age 16.

More resources, including information on a jointly sponsored program aimed at preventing teen injuries in quick-service restaurants, can be found at L&I's teen worker Web site at www.LNI.wa.gov/scs/workstandards/teenworker.htm.

For information about U.S Department of Labor laws and restrictions governing teen workers, as well as guidance on preventing teen injuries, visit youthrules.dol.gov.

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