Study: Teen Worker Injuries a 'Significant Health Problem'

A survey of 6,810 teens found that more than half of them worked, and 514 of them had been injured on the job.

"The findings from this study clearly indicate that work-related injuries among youth are a significant health problem," explain Kristina Zierold, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and Henry Anderson, M.D., chief medical officer of the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.

The authors of the study, which was published in the American Journal of Health Behavior and funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, report that 150 of the teens were injured severely enough that activities at home, work or school were affected for more than three days, and 97 filed for workers' compensation.

Among the reasons why teen workers suffer on-the-job injuries is a lack of safety training, the authors point out. For many teen workers, on-the-job training is provided by a co-worker.

"This type of training usually consists of explaining how to do the work and how to work the equipment, without emphasis on safety issues," Zierold says. "In other instances, no training is given at all."

Because so many high school students work during the school year, the authors believe schools should introduce safety training courses within their curricula. Such training could be geared to the youth's developmental level and age, they point out.

Lumber Mills Most Dangerous Job for Teens

The survey concluded that the jobs most likely to lead to injuries among teen workers were:

  • Lumber mills (51 percent of surveyed teens working at lumber mills had been injured);
  • Lumber yards (40 percent);
  • Manufacturing (37 percent);
  • Gas stations (36 percent);
  • Someone else's farm (36 percent); and
  • Construction (30 percent).

Some of the jobs and the required tasks that teens do in these jobs are illegal, Zierold notes.

The survey found that the 10 most common jobs for teens were in:

  • Restaurants and fast food (1,135 of the 6,810 teens surveyed);
  • Babysitting and lawn care (957);
  • The family business or family farm (644);
  • Grocery stores (316);
  • Department stores (261);
  • Construction, (152);
  • Newspapers (135);
  • Hospitals, clinics and nursing homes (124);
  • Other farms (109); and
  • Gift or hobby shops (107).
  • Another 274 said they were self-employed.

The survey also found that the number of hours worked each week varied from just 5 hours to more than 40 hours a week (about 3 percent of the sample).

The survey showed that 159 teens about 4 percent reported working after 11 p.m. on school nights. And 579 teens in the sample 16 percent reported working more than 23 hours a week, the equivalent of an adult half-time job.

"Based on our analysis, we surmise that working later hours may involve circumstances that place teens at greater risk for severe occupational injury," Zierold says. Late at night, when managers have gone home, "teens may be asked to perform more prohibited or hazardous tasks than when supervisors are present."

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