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Teen Worker Fatalities in Diverse Industries Show Importance of Injury Prevention

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 260-8519
June 26, 2000

As the summer employment season begins for adolescents, findings from six recent fatality reports by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) illustrate the need for vigilance and action to protect teen workers from job-related injury and death. Employers, educators, parents, and government agencies all have important roles in keeping youths safe and healthy on the job.

The NIOSH fatality reports describe six adolescent worker fatalities in diverse industries, including:

  • A 16-year-old farmworker who died in a cotton-packing machine after being covered by a 3,500-pound load of cotton.
  • A 16-year-old amusement-park attendant who died after being caught and dragged across a concrete floor by an operating amusement ride.
  • A 15-year-old campground laborer who died after striking a trailer hitch on a camper while operating a utility vehicle in morning clean-up duties.
  • Two 17-year-old construction laborers who died in separate incidents when the sides of trenches collapsed on them.
  • A 16-year-old warehouse laborer who died after falling from and being caught under an overturning forklift.

“These tragedies underscore the fact that common occupations can be extremely hazardous for adolescent workers,” said NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H. “This year, we are pleased to participate again with the U.S. Department of Labor in the annual ‘Work Safe This Summer’ campaign to provide our many partners with information and recommendations for protecting young workers from injury and death on the job.”

Each year, between 60 and 70 adolescents die from work-related injuries, hundreds more are hospitalized, and tens of thousands require treatment in hospital emergency rooms.

Sixteen- and 17-year-old workers die from the leading causes of work-related fatalities—motor vehicle injuries, job-related homicide, and injuries associated with machinery—at rates comparable to or slightly higher than those for adult workers. Too often, as illustrated by some of the cases in the recent NIOSH fatality reports, youths under 18 are killed or seriously injured while working in tasks or jobs prohibited by child labor laws, such as operating heavy equipment.

To prevent death and serious injury to teen workers, NIOSH recommends that employers know the laws covering child labor and safety, and that they provide safe employment and adequate supervision. Parents should take an active interest in their children’s employment decisions, and educators should consider safety when signing work permits and preparing young people for work. Medical providers should take work histories, note employment information on medical records, and provide young workers with safety information.

Available from NIOSH are informational materials designed specifically for teen workers, including a special poster for students under 18 that emphasizes occupational safety and health (DHHS [NIOSH] Publication No. 98-120), and “Are You a Working Teen?”, a brochure that provides additional information on the topic (DHHS [NIOSH] Publication No. 97-132).

Also available from NIOSH are “Preventing Deaths and Injuries of Adolescent Workers” (DHHS [NIOSH] Publication No. 95-125) and “Promoting Safe Work for Young Workers: A Community-Based Approach” (DHHS [NIOSH] Publication No. 99-141). These publications provide information on young worker injuries and include recommendations for action that can be taken by employers, parents, and others to prevent teen worker injury and death.

NIOSH is the federal agency for research to prevent occupational injury, illness, and death. It is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For additional information about teen worker safety and other NIOSH research areas, call toll-free 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674) or visit NIOSH on the NIOSH site.