Every 11 days, a child worker dies. Stories of on-the-job deaths and injuries are heart wrenching, and are more common amongst children and adolescents than their adult co-workers, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). A ten-year-old boy in Florida accidentally ran over his younger brother while driving a pickup truck in an orange grove. A teenager, Danilo Riccardi Jr., fell into a hole while trying to mix concrete. It took three hours for rescuers to get his body. A member of a traveling sales crew, Tracie Anaya Jones, was found dead of stab wounds in 2007. Her body was found 150 miles away from where she was last seen and the case has not still been solved.
In order to prevent more tragedies from happening, the National Consumers League released its list of the Five Most Dangerous Teen Jobs in time for the start of summer, when many teenagers are looking for jobs to develop skills and earn much-needed money. This year’s most dangerous jobs are
- Agriculture (Harvesting Crops and Using Machinery)
- Construction and Height Work
- Traveling Youth Sales Crews
- Outside Helper (Landscaping, Groundskeeping and Lawn Service)
- Driver/Operator (Forklifts, Tractors and ATVs). This list is unranked.
According to the Associated Press, “fewer than three in 10 American teenagers now hold jobs from June to August.” The article also noted that 44 percent of teens who want summer jobs either don’t end up getting them or work fewer hours than they would like to. Department of Labor research notes that the numbers are even lower amongst people of color: “only 34.6 percent of African-American youth and 42.9 percent of Hispanic youth had a job this past July.” This means that teens are more willing to take any job they can get, which advocates fear makes it more likely that they do not consider possible safety hazards or take the time to ask questions about comprehensive training and potential risks. In order to present teens with job options, the Department of Labor created the Summer Jobs+ program, which encourages non-profits and companies to hire teenagers and connects teens to those opportunities. No matter how teens find that perfect summer job, they should always be knowledgeable about potential dangers. Even a seemingly safe job can go badly.
“If your instincts are screaming ’Get out of here!’ then you should listen. If you’re being harassed at work, if you feel unsafe or if the working conditions are affecting your health, you should talk to your boss about making a change – or just quit,” – good advice from Snag a Job, an employment tips Web site.
While there are labor laws and age limitations in place to protect teens and children from work-related injuries and fatalities, those laws are not often followed or may contain certain loopholes. For example, age restrictions for working with equipment such as tractors are lower for agriculture jobs, even though agriculture has been shown to be one of the most dangerous industries for teens; for workers 15 to 17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More teens and adults should be aware of how the law does and does not protect them in the workplace – and encourage their legislative representatives to fix these laws to save and protect young workers.
There are basic steps employers and employees can take to prevent most accidents and assaults. Teens should not be asked by their employer to drive a vehicle or to work alone at night, and if they are asked, they should be willing to say “no, I won’t do that.” Being safe and healthy is more important than potentially losing a job. When first working with new equipment, any employee, regardless of age, should ask for detailed instructions on how to carefully use the equipment. Many accidents occur because employees were not properly trained. Even if training does occur, employees should be careful when using risky equipment. Too many accidents happen because an employee is not paying attention or playing around.
NCL recommends that parents become involved in their teen’s job search. This may seem counterproductive for teens using their job experience to develop independence, but parents must be aware of the safety conditions and hours of their teen’s (potential) job before and after their teenager is hired.