WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A new survey of 6,810 teens showed that more than half of them work, and 514 of them had been injured on the job.
“The findings from this study clearly indicate that work-related injuries among youth are a significant health problem,” report Kristina M. Zierold, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and Henry A. Anderson, M.D., chief medical officer of the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.
Writing in the American Journal of Health Behavior, the authors report that 150 of the teens were injured severely enough that activities at home, work, or school were affected for more than three days, and 97 filed for workers’ compensation.
The study, funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, was conducted in Wisconsin while Zierold was an epidemic intelligence service officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Developing programs and strategies to reduce injury must be made a priority,” Zierold said.
But training on the job – where safety could be stressed – often is given by another employee. “This type of training usually consists of explaining how to do the work and how to work the equipment, without emphasis on safety issues,” Zierold said. “In other instances, no training is given at all.”
She said there were no standards governing the safety training.
“Because so many high school students are working during the school year, we advocate introducing a safety training course within the school health curriculum,” she said. Such training could be geared to the youth’s developmental level and age.
Zierold said, “Training would emphasize how to identify work-related hazards, how to protect themselves from hazards, and how to address their supervisors with their safety concerns. With the safety training, teens could feel empowered at the workplace by knowing their rights and how to protect themselves.”
The researchers note that nationally each year, “approximately 70 children die from injuries inflicted at work; hundreds are hospitalized and tens of thousands require treatment in hospital emergency rooms. The National Pediatric Trauma Registry and the National Center for Health Statistics report that occupational injuries are the fourth-leading cause of death among youth ages 10-19.”
The new survey showed that the jobs most likely to lead to injury were in lumber mills (51 percent were injured on the job), lumber yards (40 percent), manufacturing (37 percent), gas stations (36 percent), someone else’s farm (36 percent), and construction (30 percent.). Some of the jobs and the required tasks that teens do in these jobs are illegal, Zierold said.
The survey found that the 10 most common jobs for teens were in restaurants and fast food (1,135 of the 6,810), babysitting and lawn care (957), the family business or family farm (644), grocery stores (316), department stores (261), construction, (152), newspapers (135), hospitals, clinics and nursing homes (124), other farms (109), and gift or hobby shops (107). Another 274 said they were self-employed.
The survey found that the number of hours worked each week varied from just five hours to more than 40 hours a week (about 3 percent of the sample). The survey showed that 159 teens – about 4 percent – reported working after 11 p.m. on school nights. And 579 teens in the sample – 16 percent – reported working more than 23 hours a week, the equivalent of an adult half-time job.
“Based on our analysis, we surmise that working later hours may involve circumstances that place teens at greater risk for severe occupational injury,” Zierold said. Late at night, when managers have gone home, “teens may be asked to perform more prohibited or hazardous tasks than when supervisors are present.”
Zierold said, “Prohibiting teens from working long and late hours, improving safety training, and increasing communications between teens and their coworkers and supervisors may help reduce the occurrence of injury.”
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Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 18th in family medicine, 20th in geriatrics, 25th in primary care and 41st in research among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 32nd in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.