Protecting Young Workers in Retail JobsPosted on by
June, which is National Safety Month, is an appropriate time to focus on young workers, as they head out of school and into the workforce. Many of them will find jobs in the retail industry, a leading employer of young workers in the United States.
In 2014, there were approximately 18.1 million workers younger than age 24 in the U.S. These workers represented 13% of the U.S. workforce. Young workers have high workplace injury rates, explained in part by the high frequency of hazards in their typical workplaces. In retail work settings, for instance, slippery floors and use of knives and energized equipment are common hazards. Inexperience and lack of safety training also increase injury risks for young workers. The youngest— those in middle and high schools—may have physical and psychosocial limitations that lead to higher injury rates.
In 2014, about 23,000 (1 of every 4) young retail workers were injured in a retail job. The rate of emergency department–treated workplace injuries was found to be about two times higher for young workers than for workers 25 years and older.
Miranda, who had just turned 16, was at her first job in a local grocery store. One evening she was to stock three departments. First, she had to open boxes with a box-cutting knife, and she felt pressure to get that done fast. Miranda ran the knife through a box, and the blade slid off the box and slashed her leg. It was bleeding. She was a good worker and did not want to get into trouble for hurting herself or not doing her work. Instead of telling her supervisor or anyone she was hurt, she went to the restroom to tend to her leg. She made a bandage to cover the cut and stop the bleeding. Then she continued working and finished her shift.
When Miranda got home from work, the makeshift bandage on her leg was soaked with blood. She was worried because the bleeding did not stop. She showed her mom and dad the cut, and they took her to the emergency room for medical treatment.
The doctor closed the cut with 10 stitches and told Miranda to limit her activities for 3 days. She needed to report her injury to her supervisor, but she was afraid she would be in trouble or be fired for making a mistake and getting hurt. She also worried that she could be fired for not telling anyone sooner about her injury. This job meant a lot to her, and she needed it to save for college.
Miranda was not aware of some important things about workplace safety.
First, there are laws to protect teenagers from hazardous jobs. Second, she has worker rights and responsibilities. Safety training is required, and she should report any injuries at work to her supervisor. Third, employers have workplace responsibilities, and one is to keep employees safe.
After Miranda told her supervisor what happened, the company was able to fill out the required paperwork for workplace injuries. She continued working, but when she stocked shelves the boxes were opened for her.
One of the most frequently reported injuries in retail is lacerations, or cuts. (Read Miranda’s story in the sidebar for a true account of a young person injured while working in retail.)
To address their increased risk for work-related injury, NIOSH developed a new webpage for young retail workers. This webpage includes safety tips for recognizing hazards and understanding the injuries they can cause, such as being struck by or stuck in an object or equipment; doing too much (overexertion); slips, trips, and falls; driving or riding incidents on the road; and workplace violence. Remember, what you know can keep you safe and healthy at work.
If you are an employer of young workers in retail, we would like to hear from you. How have you worked to keep young works safe? If you are interested in collaborating with the NIOSH Wholesale and Retail Trade Sector contact Dr. Vern Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Donna Pfirman (email@example.com).
Vist the new website Young Retail Worker Safety and Health for information on protecting young workers in this industry.
The NIOSH Safe · Skilled · Ready Workforce program conducts research and interventions to help protect young workers.
The Director’s Desk column in the June NIOSH eNews also provided updates on NIOSH young worker research and resources.
Donna Pfirman is a Program Analyst in the NIOSH Education and Information Division