Safety Rights For Young Workers

Young workers, just like the rest of the U.S. workforce, have the right to safe workplace that is free from unreasonable hazards. But unfortunately, a lack of experience on the job or the carelessness of other workers can spell danger for young workers in the U.S.

More than 170,000 young workers were injured on the job in 2012, and 361 young workers lost their lives. A teen is injured on the job approximately every 9 minutes. Between 1998 and 2007, hospitals treated approximately 795,000 nonfatal injuries to young workers on average.

The rate of emergency department-treated occupational injuries is two times higher for young workers than workers 25 years and older. Young workers are disproportionately more likely to suffer a workplace injury, largely due to inexperience and inadequate safety training. Young workers commonly find jobs in the food service industry, which exposes them to a wide variety of risks, including slippery surfaces, sharp objects, and intense heat.

Summer is a prime time for young workers in the U.S. to enter the workforce, many for the first time. As such, many young workers are at risk for heat-related illnesses during their first job. Opportunities for young workers are limited because of lack of experience and youth labor regulations, so many young workers turn to jobs as landscapers, lifeguards, and amusement park attendants. Spending the majority of the day outside in the heat puts young workers at risk for sun poisoning or other heat-related illnesses.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration urges young workers to prevent heat-related illnesses by:

  • Drinking water every 15 minutes (even if you are not thirsty)
  • Resting in the shade to cool down
  • Wearing a hat and light-colored clothing
  • Learning the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency
  • Keeping an eye on fellow workers
  • “Easy does it” on your first few days of work in the heat; your body needs time to adjust

Agriculture is one of the largest fields for young works, employing approximately 2 million people under the age of 20. Young agricultural workers are regularly exposed to serious safety hazards, including heavy machinery, electricity, confined spaces, hazardous chemicals, dust, and falling objects. When coupled with the danger of heat-related sicknesses, farming can be a dangerous field for young workers.

Once a worker turns 18, he or she is permitted to work any job, hazardous or not, and a youth 16 or 17 years old can work any non-hazardous job. But the Department of Labor prohibits any 14- or 15-year olds from working in hazardous fields, including manufacturing, mining, public utilities, construction or repair jobs, driving a motor vehicle or helping a driver, door-to-door sales, outdoor window washing and select other fields.

There were approximately 18.1 million workers under the age of 24 in 2013, accounting for 13 percent of the overall workforce. Thanks to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers are responsible for creating a safe and healthful workplace by enforcing standards and providing adequate training to all workers.