By Brian Kabateck
School’s out! For many teens and young adults, that means a summer job.
Whether they’re saving up for college or a car, starting to take responsibility for some of their expenses, or just earning a little fun money—getting that first job is an exciting rite of passage.
From babysitting, lawn mowing, and dog walking, to working in a shop or the mall, taking tickets at the movie theater, tutoring, data entry, food delivery, being a golf caddy, lifeguard, or camp counselor—many job opportunities are available to teens.
Nearly half of working teens work in the vast leisure and hospitality sector, which encompasses accommodations (hotels, motels, resorts); food services (restaurants, fast food, coffee shops, etc.); recreation (theme parks, country clubs), and much more. Retail is the second most popular industry for young people, representing over 20% of teen jobs.
And these jobs aren’t always just for the summer. Statista reports that employment during the school year is on the rise: In 2021, nearly 20 percent of American kids aged 16-19 worked while enrolled at school, up from 17.6 % the previous year.
Here’s the bad news. Parents and kids must know that teens are at an elevated risk for work-related injury. Youngworkers.org says, in the U.S., “every 9 minutes, a teenager is injured seriously enough on the job to go to a hospital emergency room.”
According to the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), several main factors contribute to dangerous job conditions for kids:
- Common workplace hazards: slippery floors, sharp knives, hot surfaces, complex machinery, heavy lifting, electricity, harsh cleaning agents; motor vehicle accidents; violent crime. In office settings: carpal tunnel and other repetitive motion conditions, eye strain, etc. Outdoors: exposure to the elements, pesticides, and chemicals.
- Lack of prior work experience
- Insufficient supervision
- Stressful conditions and pressure to work faster
- Adolescent workers may not have the physical strength or cognitive ability required to perform specific job functions.
- Seasonal jobs may have an accelerated and inadequate training period.
- Young people are far more likely to be injured when doing jobs that child labor law prohibits—such as operating heavy equipment, says NIOSH.
Consider these statistics from the CDC:
- In 2020 (most recent data), there were 17.3 million workers under 25—11.7% of the total workforce.
- Among that group, 352 died from work-related injuries; 26 of those fatalities were in children under 18.
- Workers aged 15-24 were 1.5 times more likely to have injuries requiring emergency room treatment than workers 25 and over.
- Kids 16-19 suffered injuries (non-fatal) at a higher rate than young adults 20-24.
- On average, 70 youths under 18 years old nationwide die from job-related injuries each year, while 70,000 sustain injuries that send them to the hospital.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest teen employers were the jobs with the most workplace injuries: hospitality/leisure (38%) and retail. Although estimates vary, OSHA also points out that agriculture, while not among the leading employers of teenagers, exposes many workers under 20 years of age to farm-related dangers each year.
Teens’ primary on-the-job injuries include cuts and lacerations, sprains and strains, burns, and falls.
Most of these injuries are preventable. But parents, kids, teachers, and employers all play an essential role in ensuring safety. Parents should be open about asking questions regarding hours, training, supervision, equipment, and other conditions. Remember that kids may need to learn more about the workplace to know what to ask.
Parents and kids should also be aware that the hospitality and retail industries have the highest rate of sexual harassment and violence. As seasonal or part-time workers, teens may not get adequate training and information about policies and employee rights. Further, due to age and inexperience, teens may lack a complete understanding of acceptable workplace behavior, exposing them to predators in an environment where harassment is too common.
“The impacts of these experiences can seriously harm a survivor’s future career path and economic wellbeing,” says Workplaces Respond. Teen survivors of sexual misconduct in the workplace often experience long-term stress, trouble in school, depressive symptoms, struggles with productivity, a disrupted career path, reduced economic security, and other adverse outcomes.
Education is crucial to your teen’s wellbeing at work—not only job-specific training but an understanding of general workplace safety and hazards, behavioral standards, employee rights, reporting, and remedies when something goes wrong. Some good resources are available online. Talk frankly with your teen, encourage them to ask questions, and speak up if they feel uncomfortable or have safety concerns.
If your teen suffers an injury in a preventable accident on the job, or experiences workplace harassment, the caring and experienced personal injury attorneys at Kabateck LLP can help you understand your rights and hold the responsible parties accountable.