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Learning the Hard Way: Preventing Teen Injuries in Summer Jobs

We all know that learning things the hard way is a bad way to learn. Hundreds of thousands of young workers 14-18 years old will begin new jobs this summer. New California initiatives focus on protecting teen workers.

Many industries will employ young workers in food service, grocery stores, retail and on construction sites. These jobs can create positive work experiences and allow teens to earn money. But these jobs can also involve injury, disability and death if young workers are not informed of the hazards.

"Jobs are a great way to gain valuable experience and income. But they need to be safe jobs," said Diane Bush of UC Berkeley's Labor Occupational Health Program. "California has child labor laws that protect young workers from getting hurt on their first job. This is a chance to help teens develop safety skills that will last them a lifetime."

Young workers are often asked to do jobs that are not allowed by laws designed to protect younger workers, or that can be very hazardous without proper training. Such jobs include:

  • Using powered equipment such as box crushers, bakery machines and forklifts when they are underage.
  • Working late hours and on school nights, increasing their risks and vulnerability to crime.
  • Working long hours, especially hazardous when working alone and in frequent contact with the public.
  • Operating unsafe or broken equipment unsupervised.
  • Working around hot oil and cooking surfaces.
  • Working on ladders, driving a car on public streets as part of the job, unloading trucks or conveyors.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, every year in the United States an estimated 200,000 young workers are injured on the job. About 70,000 are injured seriously enough to go to the emergency room. Studies suggest that youth job injury rates are higher than those of adults, despite the fact that teens are prohibited from working in the most hazardous occupations.

"Our young workers should be entering the work force knowing they'll get health and safety training, and asking for it if they don't," says Bush. "They should be learning to take responsibility for problems they see and know it's okay to tell their boss."

To help teach young workers, employers and parents of teens in California how to prevent injuries on the job, state and federal agencies issued workplace safety and health and labor law tips. The Web site,, has tips for young workers, parents, employers and educators on keeping teens safe at work. Collaboration between state and federal agencies include the Department of Industrial Relations, Commission on Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation and California Resource Network for Young Workers' Health and Safety. The effort is coordinated by UC Berkeley's Labor Occupational Health Program.

The California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) distributed 451,000 bookmarks outlining basic labor laws and job safety information for seven occupations employing young workers. Bookmarks distributed to high schools included the ROP, WIA and Workability programs. Request additional bookmarks by contacting DIR at (415) 703-5070 or (916) 324-4163.

UC Berkeley's Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) coordinated a teen poster contest among the 900 California high schools. The winning poster was distributed to all of the state's public high schools to promote teen awareness of safety on the job and publicize the Web site

The California Department of Education sent over 2,000 "Safe Jobs for Youth" resource kits developed by LOHP to every California public high school - targeting social studies teachers, school-to-career or work-experience educators, regional occupational centers and other organizations that train and place young workers in the work force. The kits include the winning teen poster, fact sheets, sample curriculum and sample media materials for local distribution.

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