Keeping Teens Safe on the Job

Many states have laws allowing teens as young as 14 years old to work in the hospitality industry in seasonal workplaces like movie theaters, amusement parks, bowling alleys, and some parts of hotels and bakeries. These jobs can teach great work and life skills, but we all need to make sure safety is being adequately addressed.

As 8th and 9th graders, these teens haven’t taken a Job Safety 101 class and are likely to learn through the school of hard knocks without appropriate training, supervision, and safeguards on the job. While child labor laws preclude minors from working with hazardous equipment, parents are usually required to sign a work permit and should have a conversation with their teenagers about safety and protection in the workplace. Here’s a list of questions parents should ask their working teen about the workplace:

  • How was your first day/week?
  • Did they talk about safety and job hazards?
  • What do you like most about the job? What do you like least?
  • Do you feel comfortable with the work you are doing and the tools you are using? Do you feel properly trained?
  • Are you working with any chemical products and, if so, have they discussed how to work safely with them?
  • Are you lifting anything heavy (either up off the floor or from a high shelf)?
  • Are the floors in good condition and kept free of debris, grease, or water?
  • Is the workspace at a comfortable temperature?
  • Did they show you what to do in case of an emergency?
  • Did they tell you what to do if you get hurt at work?
  • Do you feel you're under pressure to work faster?
  • Do you feel comfortable asking questions?
  • Do you feel comfortable saying “no” to doing something that seems unsafe or you don’t feel properly trained for?

As nurturers of America’s future, parents have a vital responsibility to ensure their child is safe on the job for good reason. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), each year in the U.S. an estimated 158,000 teens are injured on the job and of that number 53,000 will go to the ER for cuts, bruises, sprains, burns and even broken bones, concussions, and amputations. In fact, teens are injured twice as often as adults due to inexperience with the job tasks assigned to them. Causal factors include working with unsafe equipment, stressful work conditions, inadequate safety training, and lack of proper supervision.

NIOSH has developed a Youth@Work-Talking Safety curriculum that’s customized for each state according to specific child labor rules and regulations. They also have a video titled Teen Workers: Real Jobs, Real Risks that features a story of a teenager whose lifestyle was permanently altered from a traumatic injury while working on an unguarded ice bagging machine. The video reveals an implicit trust between teens and adults making it difficult for a young worker to speak up and ask questions and appear that they don’t know something.

Clearly, parents need to take an active role in the job decisions of their teens by asking questions about training and supervision, any required clothing and protective gear, and also to be observant for signs of physical or mental stress. OSHA’s Young Workers – You have rights! site offers resources for parents and educators as well as for young workers and employers. Developing work skills as a teenager should be a safe and rewarding experience, and parents play an important role in ensuring this outcome.