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  • Young Worker Risks

  • Young Worker Risk


    Agricultural Work

    Agriculture is the most dangerous industry for young workers, accounting for 42% of all work-related fatalities of young workers between 1992 and 2000. Unlike other industries, half the young victims in agriculture were under age 15. For young agricultural workers aged 15–17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces [BLS 2000]. Young workers employed in agriculture may be directly hired workers, employees of labor contractors, or farm residents working in the family business. Agricultural work exposes young workers to safety hazards such as machinery, confined spaces, work at elevations, and work around livestock. Young workers may also be exposed to agricultural chemicals (e.g., pesticides, fertilizers), noise, respiratory irritants, and toxic gases.

    Workers may legally perform any agricultural task after they reach age 16, whereas they are prohibited from some jobs in other industries until they reach age 18. Furthermore, child labor laws do not cover workers under age 16 who work on their parents’ or guardians’ farms. Between 1992 and 2000, 76% of the fatal injuries to agricultural workers under age 16 involved work in a family business.

    Work in Retail Trades

    The second highest number of workplace fatalities among workers younger than age 18 occurred in the retail trades (e.g., restaurants and retail stores). Between 1992 and 2000, 63% of these deaths were due to assaults and violent acts, most of which were homicides. Homicide associated with robbery is the probable cause for one fourth to one half of all young worker fatalities in retail trades. Handling cash, working alone or in small numbers, and working in the late evening and early morning hours may contribute to workplace homicides.

    In 1998, more than half of all work-related nonfatal injuries to young workers occurred in retail trades, more than 60% of which were eating and drinking establishments. Cuts in retail trades were the most common type of injury treated in emergency departments, followed by burns in eating and drinking establishments and bruises, scrapes, and scratches in other retail settings. Common hazards in restaurants include using knives to prepare food, handling hot grease from fryers, working near hot surfaces, and slipping on wet or greasy floors.

    In addition, certain types of machinery prohibited for use by young workers under current child labor laws are commonly found in retail establishments—including food slicers, paper balers, forklifts, dough and batter mixers, and bread cutting machines. Young workers may choose to operate unfamiliar machinery to prove responsibility, independence, or maturity, or they may be instructed to do so by an employer who is unaware of child labor laws or chooses to disregard them.

    Exposure to harmful chemicals may also occur in restaurants. Chemicals commonly used for cleaning may cause chlorine or ammonia gas release when mixed improperly. Depending on the amount of gas inhaled, irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, dizziness, cough, and chest pain may occur. Severe exposure may lead to pulmonary edema (the accumulation of fluid in lung tissues), serious lung injury, or pneumonia. Chlorine gas inhalation has also been shown to cause longer-term, asthma-like symptoms.

    Transportation: Motor Vehicles and Mobile Machinery

    Persons aged 16 to 20 in the general population have higher fatality and injury rates due to motor vehicle crashes than any other age group. In the workplace, 45% of all fatal injuries to workers under age 18 between 1992 and 2000 resulted from transportation incidents. Transportation incidents, as defined by the BLS, include incidents occurring on or off the highway involving motor vehicles as well as industrial vehicles (such as tractors and forklifts) in which at least one vehicle was in operation. Child labor laws prohibit workers under age 18 from operating many types of motor vehicles or mobile machinery. Operating a motor vehicle at work is prohibited for workers aged 16 and allowed only under limited circumstances for those aged 17 . Despite current restrictions, transportation-related fatalities and injuries among young workers continue to occur. Ensuring safe operation of vehicles on the job by young workers poses special challenges for employers. In addition to being new to the workplace, young employees are new to driving, which compounds the risk of injury.


    The complex and ever-changing construction work environment presents multiple safety hazards. Overall, more U.S. workers are killed working in construction than in any other industry. Construction workers risk injury from a wide range of events, including falls, electrocution, collapsing structures, machineryrelated incidents, falling objects, and motor vehicle crashes. Child labor laws prohibit workers aged 14 and 15 from working in construction, except when performing office work away from the construction site. Other laws that apply to all workers under age 18 prohibit several tasks associated with construction, yet they do not address all hazards on the job site.

    In addition to the risk of injury, construction work may expose workers to many substances with adverse health effects. The effects may not appear until years after the first exposure. Among the substances that have been linked to occupational illnesses among construction workers are asbestos, cement, synthetic vitreous fibers, silica, and wood dust; dusts and fumes from sources such as cadmium, lead, copper, zinc, and asphalt; and solvents and other chemicals such as toluene, polyurethanes, epoxy resins, and methylene chloride. Illnesses from such exposures include lead poisoning, asbestosis and other lung disorders related to inhalation of fibers, cancers, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, skin rash or inflammation, silicosis, adverse effects on fetuses, and other chronic toxic effects.

    This information came from a
    CDC online article.

    *** Any law, statute, regulation or other precedent is subject to change at any time ***

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