Safety and Health for Younger Workers

Posted on by Dawn Castillo, MPH

collage of four young workers performing tasksThis is the time of year that many young people begin thinking about summer jobs. For some teenagers, these jobs might be viewed as elective—that is, opportunities to gain work experience, spend time productively, or earn some spending money. For others, however, especially those in their late teens and early adulthood, these jobs pay the rent and buy groceries. New research from NIOSH illustrates that more needs to be done to ensure that as young people join the workforce they are better protected from hazards. On average each year from 1998 to 2007, about 800,000 workers 15 to 24 years of age were treated in emergency departments and nearly 600 died from work-related injuries. Younger workers were twice as likely as their older counterparts to be treated in hospital emergency departments for work-related injuries.

Previous research suggests that the increased risk for injuries among younger workers is related to increased hazards in their workplaces such as the use of ladders and knives as well as a perceived work overload or pressure to complete work more quickly. Minority status has also been identified as a contributing factor.1 Additionally, younger workers may lack knowledge, training, and skills about the work they perform. And, they may be less likely to speak up about safety, to recognize hazards, or to know their legal rights as workers.

The new NIOSH research examined emergency-department-treated injuries and deaths among workers 15 to 24 years of age for the 10-year period, 1998 to 2007. The most frequent cause of death for younger workers was transportation-related fatalities (this also holds true for older populations). “Contact with objects or equipment” was responsible for the highest number of emergency-department-treated injuries. This means these workers were struck by equipment, caught in tools, or crushed by machinery.

As in older populations, males in the younger workforce are more frequently injured or killed than their female counterparts. Also of note is that young Hispanic workers suffer a fatality rate that is significantly higher than the rate for non-Hispanic white workers and non-Hispanic black workers (5.6 versus 3.3 and 2.3 per 100,000 FTE).

Table 1: Industries with the greatest percentage of fatal injuries among younger workers

Industry Percentage
Services 32%
Construction 28%
Wholesale and retail trade 10%
Agriculture 10%

Table 2: Industries with the highest rate of fatal injuries among younger workers

Industry Rate
Mining 36.5 per 100,000 FTE
Agriculture 21.3 per 100,000 FTE
Construction 10.9 per 100,000 FTE
Data from CR Estes, LL Jackson, DN Castillo. Occupational Injuries and Deaths Among Younger Workers — United States, 1998–2007. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). April 23, 2010 / 59(15);449-455.

The primary responsibility for workplace safety lies with employers. Thus, reductions in younger worker injuries and deaths will require employers to make changes in work environments and workplace practices. Workers also have responsibilities for complying with employer policies and practices for safe work, and ideally they can help identify unsafe conditions and help develop safe solutions. Public health and safety practitioners, trade and labor organizations, and researchers also can contribute to younger worker safety by providing recommendations to employers on avoiding risks to these less-experienced workers.

To aid young workers and their employers, NIOSH recently introduced school curricula Talking Safety, which can help students identify workplace health and safety hazards, take measures to reduce risk for injury, and understand their rights as workers. The curricula would ensure that younger persons possess basic safety knowledge when they begin their work lives, and increase the potential for them to play active roles in workplace efforts to identify injury hazards and effective control strategies. The curricula are currently being updated with new content reflecting recent changes in youth labor laws. A new video is also available that is suitable for use in classes, workplaces, and at parent-teacher meetings. NIOSH is encouraging widespread use of these free curricula in the nation’s schools.

While the reports of injuries and fatalities may sound harrowing, there are many positive aspects of work for young people. There are success stories of how states (such as Massachusetts [see pp. 177-179], California, and Washington); communities (see also MassCOSH and EDC) and industry-focused groups (such as agriculture) have worked to improve safety for young workers. The NIOSH young worker topic page contains resources for young workers, parents, and employers. We invite you to share your experiences and suggestions for keeping our young workers safe.

Dawn Castillo is Chief of the Surveillance and Field Investigations Branch in the NIOSH Division of Safety Research


  1. Breslin FC, Day D, Tompa E, et al. Non-agricultural work injuries among youtha systematic review. Am J Prev Med 2007;32:15162.
Posted on by Dawn Castillo, MPH

15 comments on “Safety and Health for Younger Workers”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    On the table 1, if you give some more information on data year, source and youunger workers and so on. Thanks

    Thank you for your comment. The data in the tables are from the research mentioned in the first paragraph. We have added the following source information to tables in the blog.

    Data from CR Estes, LL Jackson, DN Castillo. Occupational Injuries and Deaths Among Younger Workers — United States, 1998–2007. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). April 23, 2010 / 59(15);449-455.

    Can you please give me more information regarding where and how I can get my employees trained? So far all I can find are online OSHA training companies.

    Thank you for your inquiry and interest in training your workers to improve the safety of your worksite. Worker training should be based on an assessment of the types of hazards in your workplace. For example, training for a construction site would be very different from training at a food service establishment. Ideally, there is someone at your worksite who is trained in worker safety that would be responsible for identifying and controlling injury hazards, and ensuring that workers have the training they need to do their job safely. If this is not the case, there are online training tools available from OSHA that are specific to different types of work. OSHA also offers a free consultation program for small businesses. Trade associations may have training programs or materials and there are companies that have developed and can provide training programs. The National Young Workers Resource Center may have materials of use to you, including a guide for small businesses. Additionally, community colleges and vocational post-high school training programs are starting to offer “workplace safety programs” specifically for small businesses.

    NIOSH has developed curricula (see above) to help ensure that young workers have basic knowledge about safety and health, but this curricula is generally used in educational settings, and training young workers about basic safety and health needs to be balanced with employer efforts to identify and address injury hazards in their work environment, and to provide work-site specific training.

    It’s so important to keep all workers safe, but I do agree that the younger ones are more willing to take risk in the workplace be it because of the feeling of invincibility that comes with age, and therefore employers need to make certain they have proper training procedures in place for their new employees.

    Another resource folks should be aware of is:
    It contains materials and info for teen workers, parents, employers and educators. Plus, the latest winning youth entries for best psa and best poster!

    With a background in heavy industry, a business in the safety arena, and being from Texas,I see two dynamics at work here.

    One concerns the Hispanic workers. Many are reluctant to admit their lack of command of the English language resulting in their not fully grasping the safety instructions they are given. Unfortunately, they have learned to return the appropriate nods and gestures that leave the instructor with the impression that all is well.

    It would be very helpful if the employer could have a Spanish-speaker follow up just to make sure the instructions have been fully understood.

    Secondly, is the issue of youth. I have found that, despite the existence of many notable exceptions, generally the youth of today don’t possess good listening skills. They seem to have rather short attention spans. For better assimilation of safety procedures, it might be helpful to serve them in smaller bites.

    I know these “fixes” sound too simple, but those are the ones that usually produce the best results and cost the least to implement.

    We at have a simple clip that reduced hand injuries by 87% because it solved the problem of employees doing a job without their gloves beacuse they had either left them somewhere or lost them.

    Always go for the simple solution first.

    Recently, I heard of a new, updated law that prohibits young workers (those under 18years of age) from operating powered patient lifting devices.

    It seems counterproductive that young nursing assistants would be told not to use protective devices when OSHA has published the OSHA Guidelines for Nursing Homes: Ergonomics for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders. In this publication the use of mechanical lifting devices is recommended.


    Please clarify

    On May 20, the Department of Labor announced final child labor rules that went into effect on July 19, 2010. DOL is describing these new rules as the “…most ambitious and far-reaching revisions to the child labor regulations in the last thirty years.”

    The new rules include numerous recommendations made by NIOSH, including a change that now prohibits 16- and 17-year-olds from operating or assisting in the operation of powered hoists of less than one ton capacity. NIOSH made this recommendation based on the potential for hoisted loads less than one ton to cause injury as a result of the load falling or being improperly rigged or handled, and reports of young worker fatalities associated with hoists, including a fatality of a youth using a half-ton electric hoist in an industrial setting. At the time NIOSH made this recommendation to the Department of Labor, NIOSH did not consider the potential application of this recommendation to patient lifting devices which have since been proven to be very effective in reducing worker injuries associated with patient handling when used as a part of a comprehensive program including worker training and employer policies.

    The Department Of Labor is aware of stakeholder concerns about this aspect of the new child labor laws, and is currently examining the issue. NIOSH will provide technical assistance to the Department of Labor to help them in their consideration of risks to 16- and 17-year-olds associated with power-driven patient hoist/lifts, and the most appropriate means of providing meaningful opportunities for youth work in health care settings, while ensuring such work is safe.

    For more information on the new child labor rules see the federal register notice and Department of Labor fact sheet. NIOSH recommendations to the Department of Labor for changes to child labor laws are available at

    As rightly said about the primary responsibility should lie with the employers because it helps to reduce the injuries & deaths in younger worker injuries

    Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.

    Do you have recent data on injury rates of young workers in mining, construction, and agriculture? Most of the data has been from 2010 and I need information for the past five years (2011 -2015). It is difficult to find literature about this age group and the factors that influences them to have the highest injury rate. A lot of data is available for older age groups but limited literature is available from 2011-2015.

    The most recent NIOSH data (2012) for one of the industries you mentioned, injuries to youth in agricultural, can be found at: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has published data on injuries, illnesses, and fatalities through 2013 for all three industries, including breakouts by age, at It takes at least another year for data from a given year to be reported because of the time needed for collecting, analyzing, and organizing the data.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments posted become a part of the public domain, and users are responsible for their comments. This is a moderated site and your comments will be reviewed before they are posted. Read more about our comment policy »

Page last reviewed: November 25, 2016
Page last updated: November 25, 2016