Group Calls for Reform of Laws Governing Teen Employment

July 6, 2004
The National Consumers League (NCL) issued a list of the 2004 Five Worst Teen Jobs, and NCL Vice President for Fair Labor Standards Policy Darlene Adkins called for the White House and Congress to initiate child labor reform to save the lives of young workers.

The call for reform comes less than a month after a Washington, D.C.-area teenager was killed at his job, one that is listed among the top five. The 17-year-old worker had been with his employer for just a few weeks when he was killed when he climbed on top of a mulch-spreading truck to investigate a jam and fell into the spreading mechanism .

Every 30 seconds, an American teen worker is injured on the job, and one teen dies from a workplace injury every five days. According to the Department of Labor, fatalities among working teens climbed to 175 deaths in 2001.

Two years ago, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued a report, NIOSH Recommendations to the U.S. Department of Labor for Changes to Hazardous Orders, which reviews the list of prohibited occupations for minors and recommends 54 changes and additions meant to better protect young workers. The Department of Labor has not acted upon the recommendations since the report was released.

"Too many youth are working under outdated and insufficient child labor laws, and there are thousands who are legally employed in industries or with machinery that is unacceptably dangerous to working minors," said Adkins. "The NIOSH report addresses safety concerns that require immediate attention to save lives, and three of our five worst jobs are specifically cited in the report."

Each year, NCL compiles the five worst teen jobs each year using government statistics and reports, results from the Child Labor Coalition's annual survey of state labor departments, and news accounts of injuries and deaths. Statistics and examples of injuries for each job on the list are detailed in a report available at www.nclnet.org/childlabor.

According to NCL, the five most dangerous jobs for teens are:

  • Agriculture: Agriculture is the most dangerous industry for young workers. Among young agricultural workers aged 15-17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces.
  • Working Alone and Late-Night Work in Retail: The second highest number of workplace fatalities among youth are in the restaurant and retail store industries. Most deaths are robbery-related homicides.
  • Construction and Work at Heights: Construction is the third leading cause of death among young workers. Deaths and serious injury result from working at heights 6 feet and above. Falls from roofs, ladders, and scaffolds or staging are the most common types of fatal falls.
  • Driver/Operator of Forklifts and Tractors: This includes minors who are operating or riding as passengers or non-operators working near such a machine. Tractor-related accidents are the most prevalent cause of agricultural fatality in the United States.
  • Traveling Youth Crews: Defined as youth who are recruited to sell candy, magazine subscriptions, and other items door-to-door or on street corners, these youth operate under dangerous conditions and are unsupervised by adults.

"It's important for teens and parents to know that all jobs can be hazardous, not just the ones on this list," said Adkins. To promote safe work, NCL has released tips for working teens and advice for parents. All materials are available online at nclnet.org/childlabor.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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