According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70 teens are killed and another 70,000 require hospital treatment each year due to work-related incidents. In Massachusetts, three teens were fatally injured and over 4,000 more were injured in work-related accidents from 2004 to 2008. While the state reports a significant decline in work-related injuries for young workers, the injuries and losses that do still occur remain a concern.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), each year about 800 working teens in Massachusetts seek emergency room care due to work injuries; an estimated 2,400 are injured but don’t seek medical treatment. Still, the state public health agency reports a slight decline in “teen-at-work” injuries.
Teens generally work in the retail, hotel and food services industries, which can be hazardous under certain circumstances. These types of jobs represent nearly 60 percent of employers for young workers. According to the MDPH, teens reported a wide range of injuries, including cuts, suffocation, hazardous material exposure, victimization and strains. Many of these injuries occur when unsafe equipment, inadequate training, improper supervision, lack of safety or protective gear, time management issues and stressful conditions exist in the workplace. Essentially, injuries often occur when employers disregard the regulations put in place to protect these more vulnerable workers.
In Massachusetts, the law prohibits minors under the age of 14 – which includes children in middle school – to work in most jobs. Federal law also mandates that juveniles under the age of 18 cannot work in dangerous environments. In addition to commonly known prohibited fields such as work in saw mills and coal mines, federal regulations preclude children from working with bakery equipment, power-driven meat slicers and wood-working machines.
The plight of older employees in the workplace generally gets more attention. However, teen injuries in the workplace do occur and have been a point of international study. The recent decline in teen work-related injuries has been linked to the slow economy, not necessarily increased safety awareness for teen workers. Other factors may also be revealed through further study.
As the knowledge of teen worker safety has become more prevalent, the government has increased regulation regarding youth in the workplace. As it stands, the safety of juvenile workers is crucial to the health, safety and welfare of all our communities.