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Safety Engineers Society Urges Teens to Be Aware of Workplace Hazards

Wed June 14, 2006 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

As teens contemplate taking a summer job they should be aware of the fact that although most of them may work fewer hours and hold less dangerous jobs than adults, teenagers have a high rate of work-related injuries, according to the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

To drive home this message, an ASSE Career World insert titled “Teens At Work: Safety First!” is being distributed to students in 95,000 high schools countrywide.

Approximately 80 percent of U.S. teens work annually at some time during their high school years, many during the summer. While they earn extra money and gain valuable work experience, the risk of serious injury or even a fatal injury is present.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2004 alone, more than 38,000 teen workers were injured on the job, and another 134 were fatally injured. Workers aged 15 to 17 spend most of their work hours in food preparation and service jobs, handling stock or in labor jobs, farming, forestry or in fishing.

Common injuries sustained among teens include sprains, strains, contusions, lacerations and fractures.

Many teens and their parents are unaware of the risks and the laws involving young workers, such as knowing that the most common job-related injury for first-time workers under 18 is muscle sprain or strain; that for teenagers, trips and falls, eye strain, and excessive noise are just some of the hazards teens face at work; that by law, an employer must provide protective clothing and equipment necessary for the job, payment for medical expenses if injured at work and training in on-the-job, safety; and, that on a school day, a 15-year-old is only permitted to work up to three hours a day.

Sixteen-year-olds are limited to the type of work they can do.

For instance, out of these jobs —

• operating a meat slicing machine at a deli counter,

• driving a forklift at a warehouse,

• waiting tables at a restaurant, or

• performing demolition work at a construction site — a 16-year-old is legally only allowed to work waiting tables.

“Teens and their parents should be aware that newly hired teens miss work most often because they are suffering from on-the-job muscle sprains, strains, or tears; that fatigue from trying to balance work and school may contribute to injuries among young workers; that approximately 70 percent of 14- to 16-year-olds injured on the job miss work, school, and other activities for at least a day,” ASSE President Jack H. Dobson Jr. said.

“A quarter of those injured teens are sidelined for more than a week. About a third of fatal injuries to young workers occur in family businesses, such as on a farm, according to federal officials.”

Teenagers are not allowed to work in mining, logging, meatpacking, roofing, excavation or demolition, according to labor laws. They cannot drive a car or forklift or work with saws, explosives, radioactive materials or most machines.

As for laws, the U.S. Department of Labor has established two laws to protect the safety and health of teens. The Fair Labor Standards Act restricts the types of jobs teens under 18 can hold and the hours they can work.

In addition, the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that employers provide safe and healthful work environments for all workers, including teens.

Employers also must comply with occupational safety and health standards.

States have laws to protect working teens. As a result, many rules, like those related to farm work, may vary from state to state. Employers must obey all appropriate federal and state laws.

When federal and state regulations are different, the law that gives workers the most protection applies. Employers must obey laws that protect all workers, including teens. But workplace safety also is up to the worker. To avoid being injured or getting ill workers should ask the employer safety-related questions, follow basic safety guidelines at work, and know one’s rights and responsibilities.

It is important to ask safety questions before starting a job. Important questions to ask include:

• What are the physical demands of my job?

• What are my hours?

• Will I be working alone or with others?

• What kind of safety gear will I need to wear?

• What workplace hazards should I be aware of (noise, chemicals, etc.)?

• What safety training will I receive and when will I receive it?

• Where are the first-aid supplies and fire extinguishers kept?

• Do you have a worker safety policy and an emergency plan?

• Is there an occupational safety and health professional on staff?

Another element of workplace safety is ergonomics. Ergonomics is the science of designing a job to fit the worker. Applying ergonomics to the equipment used, the tasks performed, and the environment one works in can help one do their job safely, comfortably and efficiently.

Training can be key. Being trained in workplace safety protects one from serious injury, and it’s also good for business. Having an effective safety and health process at a business, which includes safety training, can increase productivity, boost worker morale, and save employers money on health insurance and workers’ compensation.

For a full copy of the “ASSE Teens at Work: Safety First” insert or the “ASSE Workplace Safety Guide for Young Workers” brochure contact ASSE.

For more information, call 847/699-2929 or visit

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