The national survey – the results of which are published in the March 1 issue of Pediatrics – queried 928 teenage workers. Of those, 52 percent of boys and 43 percent of girls reported using dangerous equipment such as box crushers and slicers. Survey respondents also reported having to serve and sell alcohol in places where it is consumed – despite federal child labor laws prohibiting these practices.
According to the survey, females (84 percent) were more likely than males (61 percent) to handle cash in their jobs, exposing them to risks associated with robberies. Homicides during robberies were the cause of up to half of all youth fatalities in retail trade.
“Many teenagers start working at an early age, and most find jobs in retail or service industries,” said lead study author Carol Runyan, Ph.D., director of the Injury Prevention Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Our aim is to examine the conditions under which they are working, and suggest ways to protect them at work.”
Many teens younger than 16 years old reported working after 7 p.m. on school nights, which is illegal, Runyan said, and suggests the need for better enforcement of child labor laws. Some teens said they worked after 11 p.m. on school nights, potentially interfering with school or sleep.
“Though there are benefits to work, not enough attention has been paid to safety,” Runyan said. “Federal and state child labor laws are designed to restrict the working environments, tasks and hours that teens work. However, the data we collected suggest there are gaps in how well businesses are complying.”
Teens Not Getting Safety Training
About one-third of the teens surveyed said they had not received any safety training, Runyan noted. And others who were trained did not receive instruction in some critical areas, such as what to do in case of a robbery or how to deal with arguments or fights among co-workers.
“Greater supervision and training in difficult situations that arise in retail and service sector jobs would really benefit these teens,” Runyan said. “ ... The fact that so many teens in our survey reported working one or more days a week without any adult supervision suggests the potential for serious lapses in safety.”
According to Runyan, parents need to be aware of workplace risks and make sure their children are in a safe work environment. Runyan also called on physicians working with adolescents to be more aware and to ask teens about work as part of standard medical practice.
According to the Department of Labor, which includes 16- to 19-year-olds in its monthly employment statistics, 6.7 million people in that age group were working or seeking work in January.