For many workplaces, it’s that time of year when the ranks of employees swell with part-timers and seasonal workers. Finding great part time workers can be a challenge for any organization, particularly in a tight labor market. Young first-time workers comprise a huge portion of the seasonal work force, and with this influx of teens, employers face a special responsibility: keeping them safe.
During the summer months, about 2 million teens join the work force and, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), every two minutes one of those teens is injured on the job. About once every five days, a teen dies as a result. NIOSH estimates that every year, about 230,000 workers under the age of 18 are injured on the job and between 60 to 70 die due to workplace injuries.
Some workplaces are particularly dangerous for teens. While any workplace can have its hazards, the National Consumer League identifies the five most dangerous jobs for teens as:
- Agriculture: Fieldwork and Processing
- Construction and Work in Heights
- Outside Helper: Landscaping, Groundskeeping, and Lawn Service
- Driver/Operator: Forklifts, Tractors, and ATVs
- Traveling Youth Crews
OSHA lists the most frequent types of deaths experienced by teens as homicides, driving or traveling as passengers in motor vehicles, machine-related accidents, electrocution and falls. The most frequent reasons why these injuries occur are cited as:
- Unsafe equipment
- Stressful conditions
- Inadequate safety training
- Inadequate supervision
- Dangerous work that is illegal or inappropriate for youth
- Trying to hurry
- Alcohol and drug use
A special mandate
Young workers are callow. They lack the experience, judgment and stamina of older workers, and are eager to please new employers. These characteristics can be a toxic mix, particularly when exacerbated by a young person’s normal inclination towards feelings of invulnerability. Employers must take special measures to ensure that young workers are safe on the job.
First, ensure that everyone in your organization is complying with applicable laws regarding young workers. OSHA issues a teen worker guide for employers that links to federal labor laws. For a quick summary, Youth Rules offers a one page summary of when and where a teen is allowed to work. Specific states may have additional provisions, so be sure to review those laws, too.
Second, redouble your training programs. Many organizations that have stellar orientation programs for full-time workers can short shrift temporary or part-time workers—a big mistake since all new workers are highly vulnerable to on the job injuries, regardless of job status. And for the reasons cited, teens are especially vulnerable. Ensure that safety is an integral component in any orientation and job training. Explain your organization’s safety philosophy and policies. In addition, explain the specific hazards posed by each job. “Show and tell” training is particularly important. For teen workers, and can be a wise practice to assign a buddy or a mentor to keep an eye out as they acclimate to the job.
Third, raise overall safety awareness in your organization. Use any influx of new workers to promote your organization’s safety policies to all workers, and “deputize” your veteran workers to help enforce any policies. Make safety everyone’s job. Have managers—particularly senior staff—conduct regular safety walkthroughs and audits.
Workers Comp Insider offers employers 10 tips to keep teen workers safe as well as a list of resources and links for teens.
Here are additional sites:
- NIOSH: Preventing Deaths, Injuries and Illnesses of Young Workers
- Department of Labor Youth & Labor page
- Teen Workers—from OSHA
- Young workers safety and health links from the New York Committee for Safety and Health
- Health & Safety Guide for new Retail Workers (PDF)
- Teen Driving Safety
- Safe Work for Youth in Construction