Keeping Teens Safe and Healthy at Work: It Takes Teamwork!Posted on by
For U.S. teens, a summer job is a rite of passage. Research demonstrates that these experiences, whether lifeguarding, working in a restaurant or the local ice cream shop, mowing lawns, or working in the family business, have many benefits. These include helping teens gain independence, valuable job and life skills, and experiences that bridge the transition to adulthood. Despite these benefits, work can also have serious risks. Approximately every 5 minutes a teen aged 15-19 is injured at work. They experience roughly twice the rate of injuries as adult workers over age 24.
To help keep young workers safe at their jobs this summer, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is participating in the social media campaign, My Safe Summer Job, to provide workplace safety and health information and resources to employers of youth, young workers, parents, and educators. Employers have the main responsibility to provide workers, including teen employees, with a safe and healthy workplace. But safety takes teamwork. Parents, teachers, and teens themselves, also play a crucial role in contributing to safe and healthy work experiences for youth.
Teens must follow the safe work practices at their job site, report hazards to their supervisor or another adult and speak-up when they feel unsafe. Teens under the age of 18 also have special protections at work under state and federal child labor laws. Federal child labor regulations restrict the hours teens under age 16 may work and prevent those under age 18 from working in certain dangerous jobs. Many states have more restrictions. It is important for teens, their employers and their parents to be aware of these special protections.
Below are some general, and by no means exhaustive, guidelines for the other important team members who play a vital role in keeping youth safe and healthy at work. See the Additional Resources section below for more information.
When hiring teen workers, employers should follow these guidelines:
- Learn and comply with the federal and state child labor laws that apply to young workers.
- Provide safety training using words that teens can understand. Point out safety precautions and possible workplace hazards. Give clear instruction for each task, especially unfamiliar ones. Provide hands-on training on correct use of equipment. Reinforce training constantly.
- Avoid making assumptions about what young workers know, even if something seems obvious. They may be embarrassed or uncomfortable to ask questions.
- Supervise teens closely, correcting any issues immediately.
- Prepare teens for emergencies such as fires and violent or unexpected, dangerous situations.
- Be sure teens know how to use personal protective equipment (if needed).
- Implement a mentoring or buddy system with an adult or experienced workplace peer.
- Encourage open communication where questions are welcome.
- Tell young workers what to do if they get hurt on the job.
- Set a good safety example.
It is important to create a workplace culture that encourages young workers to ask questions about health and safety concerns.
Parents should take an active role in discussing their teen’s employment, reminding their teen to speak-up if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable at work.
The following are some questions parents can use to talk with their teen about being safe at work:
- Have you received any safety training?
- Is there a supervisor present at all times?
- Do you know who to ask if you have any safety questions?
- Do you work with any dangerous machinery or hazardous chemicals?
- Do you know your rights and responsibilities at work?
- What hours are you expected to work?
- Do you know what to do if you get injured?
- Do you know what to do if an emergency occurs at work?
Educators also play an important role in helping to protect young workers. Teachers can raise awareness about job-related hazards, teach youth how to address workplace hazards, provide information on injury prevention and inform youth about workers’ rights. Students can use this knowledge and these skills throughout their careers. It may be the only workplace safety and health instruction they receive before entering the labor force!
Some helpful resources for teachers:
- The NIOSH Youth@Work—Talking Safety curriculum can be used in the classroom or other group trainings. The curriculum is downloadable free-of-charge, customized for all states and several territories, and includes step-by-step instructions for presenting the material.
- Your Construction Safety & Health Program: Safe Students, Safe Workers is a free guide to help educators and school administrators build safety and health management systems into Career and Technical Education (CTE) Training Programs.
NIOSH understands the importance of teamwork in promoting young worker safety and health. The Institute has teamed up with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), CareerSafe, and others on the My Safe Summer Job social media campaign to keep young workers safe at their summer jobs. Please share with us in the comment section below how your workplace is working to keep young workers safe this summer and all year long.
Rebecca Guerin, PhD, CHES, is a research social scientist in the NIOSH Education and Information Division and coordinator of the NIOSH Safe • Skilled • Ready Workforce program.
- The NIOSH Young Worker Safety and Health Topic Page highlights NIOSH resources and research related to protecting young workers.
- The NIOSH Safe • Skilled • Ready Workforce Program page provides information, resources and research related to young worker safety and health.
- The NIOSH Young Retail Workers page provides workplace safety and health information for youth working in retail jobs.
- The U.S. Department of Labor provides guidance for young workers, parents, employers, and educators:
- The Labor Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and Washington State Department of Labor and Industries provide a number of helpful resources for working teens, their parents, teachers and employers.
 Mortimer, J. T. (2010). The benefits and risks of adolescent employment. Prevention Researcher, 17(2), 8.
 NIOSH (2019). The Work-Related Injury Statistics Query System (Work-RISQS), 2016.