Summer is a time for students on summer break to earn money for college, a new car, clothes or to help their families. Unfortunately, for younger workers engaged in manual labor positions, injuries from work-related hazards or conditions as a result of their age and inexperience are substantial. Consequently, more needs to be done to protect youthful workers from work-related injuries or illnesses.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) statistics indicate that from 1998 to 2007, an average of 800,000 workers ages 15 to 24 were treated for work-related injuries and nearly 600 died as a result of these injuries. Since only about one-third of work-related injuries are seen in emergency rooms, NIOSH estimates that about 146,000 workers ages 15 to 17 suffer from work injuries every year. Most fatal injuries occurred in services and construction trades.
NIOSH has published an occupational health and safety curriculum that has been tailored for each state to address state specific rules and regulations, along with a guide for instructors who present the materials. The publication emphasizes that young workers must recognize the potential for injury and should ask for and participate in training. Youth workers need to ask questions if they are unsure about their tasks and should discuss their concerns with supervisors. They need to know that they have the right to work in safe and healthful environments free of known hazards and have the right to refuse unsafe work tasks. Workers can file complaints with the Department of Labor (DOL) if they feel their rights have been violated or their safety compromised.
NIOSH has encouraged employers to reduce hazards in the workplace, to ensure that equipment used by young workers is safe and that workers have been properly trained and appropriately supervised. The NIOSH curriculum also lists particular tasks that may not performed by young workers. State regulations need to be conspicuously posted and regular safety meetings held to advise and inform all workers how to identify, report and resolve any hazardous conditions.
Additionally, educators have been asked to include occupational safety and health as a required topic in middle or junior high schools and high schools. Parents are advised to know child labor laws and not assume that their child’s employer knows these laws. They should ask their child about training programs at work and be aware of any signs of stress or fatigue if he or she is working as well as attending classes. If a young worker has been injured on the job, it is important for loved ones to report this injury and speak to an attorney to find out more about your child’s rights and legal options.