Teenage Construction Workers: More Safety Training is Needed

A recent study found that most teenage construction workers receive some safety training, but nearly enough, according to one researcher.

Professor Michael Schulman of North Carolina State University interviewed 300 teens (age 13-18) working in house building and commercial construction. They performed tasks such as cleaning work areas, acting as watchers, getting tools and equipment and lifting and carrying heavy objects. "They are the unskilled gofers on a construction site," he noted.

These teens faced a wide range of hazards heavy equipment, motor vehicles, saws, drills, nail guns and jackhammers as well as exposure to fumes and odors, falling objects, dust, noise and falls.

Most employers interviewed provided the teen workers some safety training upon hire, but it was usually less than 3 hours. Schulman observed that it was important to recognize construction as a male occupational culture "characterized by gender norms of bravery, daring, strength and confidence." It is also a craft where workers "control the job, tools and pace of work" and where skill is based upon experience.

The combination of these cultural norms in construction, said Schulman, helps to create a phenomena he calls the "normalization of injury." In other words, injury is part of the job. That may be one of the major lessons young workers learn from older workers.

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