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Employment Dangers for Teens

National Consumer League issues Five Most Dangerous Jobs report

The National Consumers League (NCL) has issued its 2011 Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens report. The annual study by the nonprofit advocacy group is designed to help teens and their parents select safe jobs this summer—if they can find them.

According to an analysis by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies published in April, the number of working teens has fallen dramatically since 2000, when 45 of every 100 teenagers held summer jobs. By 2010, that number was 26—a drop of 40 percent. The good news is that high unemployment rates, along with health and safety education efforts, have caused the number of teen death to trend slowly downward. The fatality rate for workers under 24 fell 14 percent during the 10-year period that ended in 2007.

NCL’s 2011 report notes that each day in America, 12 workers of all ages die, and some of the victims are youth workers. In 2009, 27 workers under 18 died in the workplace—nearly half of those workers (13) were under 16 years old. In the 18–19 age group, another 57 workers died.

 According to NCL, the five most dangerous jobs for working youth in 2011 are:

  • Agriculture: Harvesting crops and using machinery
  • Construction and height work
  • Traveling youth sales crews
  • Outside Helper: Landscaping, groundskeeping, and lawn service
  • Driver/Operator: Forklifts, tractors, and ATVs.

The five worst jobs for teens are not ranked in order; they all share higher-than-normal injury or fatality rates.

NCL’s Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens is updated annually in May using data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and other sources. The report is authored by Reid Maki, NCL’s director of social responsibility and fair labor standards and coordinator of the child labor coalition.

NIOSH estimates that each year some 146,000 youth sustain work-related injuries. That translates to 400 young workers injured on the job every day. Maki says that accidents—both in normal life and at work—are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 19. More youth between 10–19 die from injuries than die from all other causes combined. The most common way for a teen worker to die is in a traffic accident. In 2008 data from the federal government, 43 of 97 deaths of workers under 19 came in transportation accidents.

Fatalities at Work

The CDC examined occupational fatalities for workers under 24 and found that the greatest number of deaths occurred in the following sectors:

  • Services (32 percent)
  • Construction (28 percent)
  • Wholesale and retail trade (10 percent)
  • Agriculture (10 percent). This summer, the U.S. Department of Labor is expected to revise its list of Hazardous Orders for Agriculture to help strengthen protections for youth workers. The changes will not impact youth working on their parents’ farms, however. Experience suggests that these working youth are particularly vulnerable to injury.

When the CDC looked at injury rates for under-24 workers, mining (36.5 fatalities per 100,000 full-time employees) and agriculture (21.3 per 100,000 full-time employees) were the two most dangerous industries. Mining is not included on the NCL teens-and-jobs list because workers must be 18 to work in a mine.

In terms of raw numbers, retail establishments, restaurants, and grocery stores are three of the largest employers of teen workers, with two in three teens working the retail or leisure/hospitality sectors, according to NCL's report. Not surprisingly, many teen occupational injuries occur in those two sectors. Nearly half of teenagers injured on the job work in restaurants or other leisure/hospitality companies; three in 10 work in retail establishments.

The NCL study shows that the most common causes of death for the 84 young workers under the age of 19 who died in 2009 were:

  • Exposure to harmful substances or environments
  • Transportation accidents
  • Assaults by violent acts
  • Contact with objects and equipment
  • Falls
  • Getting caught in or crushed by collapsing materials
  • Drowning or submersion.

To help protect their teens, the report recommends that parents ask their child or their child’s new employer these ten questions:

  1. Will my son or daughter be asked to drive a vehicle?
  2. Will the job involve their being driven by others?
  3. Is the commute lengthy?
  4. Is there any machinery or tools that my child might be asked to use that may be dangerous?
  5. Will he or she receive safety training?
  6. How detailed is that training?
  7. Is there any risk of falling involved with the job?
  8. Will my child ever be on the job site alone?
  9. Have my child and I visited to review state and federal law to make sure that we know what restrictions apply to their employment?
  10. Is my child’s job impacting his physical or emotional health or his education negatively?

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