MMWR: Younger Workers Experience Higher Injury Rates

April 30, 2010
From 1998-2007, younger workers experienced approximately twice as many nonfatal occupational injuries as older workers, and employers must make changes in workplace environments and practices to protect this population, according to the April 23 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The report, conducted by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), pointed out that younger workers in the United States represent 14 percent of the labor force “and face high risk of injury while on the job.”

NIOSH analyzed Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System occupational supplement data for the years 1998-2007. During this time period, 5,719 younger workers died from occupational injuries, which is a fatality rate of 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. This rate is lower than the fatality rate (4.4) for older workers, who are defined as those 25 years old and older.

The nonfatal injury rate for younger workers, however, was about two times higher (5.0 injury rate for injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments) than the rate for older workers. Injury rates for younger workers were highest among 18- and 19-year-olds.

As with fatalities, the rate of these nonfatal injuries for younger workers declined during the10-year time period, but the report states that this injury decline “was not statistically significant.”

“Public health, labor, and trade organizations should provide guidance to employers to help them in their responsibilities to provide safer workplaces and should identify steps that employers can take to remove or reduce injury hazards,” the report stated. “Employers need to ensure that their younger workers have the requisite training and personal protective equipment to perform their jobs safely.”

Industries and Causes

From 2003-2007, fatalities for younger workers occurred most often in the services, construction, wholesale and retail trade and agriculture industries. Younger workers also experienced the highest fatality rates in mining, agriculture and construction. Fatalities related to transportation, including highway incidents, “were the most frequently recorded events among all age groups.”

A large proportion of nonfatal occupational injuries for younger workers was attributed to contact with objects or equipment, which includes “the worker being struck by or against, rubbed or abraded, or caught in or crushed by various tools, equipment, machinery, parts, or materials.”

The report also found that the fatality rate for younger Hispanic workers was “significantly higher” at 5.6 than the rate for non-Hispanic white or black workers, who had respective fatality rates of 3.3 and 2.3. Nonfatal injury rates for Hispanic younger workers, however, were not significantly different from younger, non-Hispanic workers.

“The primary responsibility for workplace safety lies with employers. Thus, reductions in younger worker injuries and deaths will require employers to make changes in work environments and workplace practices,” the report stated.

Assessing injury hazards, removing or reducing injury potential and offering appropriate training and PPE were among the report’s recommendations for employers.

“Employers should be aided by health and safety practitioners, as well as others, in providing better guidance and tools to improve younger worker safety,” the report stated.

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