Protecting Our Future: Young Worker Safety On The Job

Getting that first job is an exciting time. For the young worker, there's the euphoria of disposable income combined with the confidence boost of learning someone other than a family member or coach is willing to give them a chance. Nowhere on the radar are there thoughts of being injured, maimed, or even worse during that initial foray into the workforce. But grim statics show there's reason for concern. And it's the collective responsibility of all involved—employers, parents, educators, and the young workers—to take accountability to ensure that first job doesn't end in tragedy.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration views "young workers" as employees under the age of 25. Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels pointed out in a June 24, 2014, U.S. Department of Labor blog that young workers are twice as likely to be injured on the job as older workers. OSHA statistics also reveal that one teenaged worker is injured on the job every nine minutes. And when it comes to workplace fatalities, where even one is one too many, in 2014, 351 young workers were killed on the job, with 21 of the victims younger than 18.

Why are young workers so much more likely to be injured on the job? This question makes me reflect back on my workplace injuries. I’ve been injured to the point of needing emergency room treatment twice in the past 36 years, and both incidents occurred prior to me turning 21. The first event required stitches after I took a rock to the head on an excavation work site. Hard hats were readily available and we were encouraged, but not required, to wear them. After the stitches, I was a hard hat convert. The second incident resulted in a tetanus shot. I stepped on a nail while assisting on a maintenance project at a manufacturing facility. From what I remember, safety footwear with puncture resistant midsoles was not worn; they were definitely not required at that facility. After that incident, I watched more closely where I stepped.

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