"It has been said that progress can be measured by the extent to which children's rights are safeguarded" (USDOL, 1967).

It is estimated that about 80% of the nation's teens will have a job by the time they graduate from high school. Unlike adult workers, young workers typically move in and out of employment, work part-time, and do not typically work to support a family. Nationwide, most teens work in the retail sector, primarily in restaurants and grocery stores. Many also work in service industries, such as health care and hospitality, and agriculture. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 97% of employed youths worked for a wage (versus self-employed or family workers).

The numbers of youth working, injured and killed continue to be an issue. Young workers are exposed to many of the same occupational risks as their adult counterparts and, for various reasons, they are more likely to be injured than are adult workers. Data indicate that teens are injured at a rate at least two times higher than adults. Nearly 70 youths under the age of 18 die each year in the U.S. as a result of an occupational injury. The leading causes of death are motor vehicles, agricultural machinery and homicide. Nationally, it is estimated that approximately 230,000 teens suffer work-related injuries each year, with one-third (n= 77,000) of these seeking care in emergency rooms. In keeping with employment patterns, more than 80% of these injuries occur in the retail or service industries.

Characteristics of Youth Workers

Youth are new to the world of work, and their age and inexperience contributes to their increased risk for injury. During this time in their lives, they are going through a great deal of change, learning many new things, and facing difficult challenges. Their ability to focus is sometimes compromised. Compared to adults, adolescents have less-developed cognitive abilities, physical coordination and overall maturity, and experience a rapidly changing physiology. They often have a limited perception of danger and may engage in risk-taking behaviors while they lack of a sense of vulnerability. Additionally, because of their young age and lack of work experience, they may not feel able to speak up about concerns or fears they may have when placed in a dangerous situation; speaking up to an adult and a person in authority is difficult for many teens. At this time of their life, they seek to be given increased responsibilities and do not want to appear not to know what they are doing, making them less inclined to ask questions.

Summary of Young Worker Characteristics

  • Typically explore, experiment, and take risks, but lack a sense of vulnerability. Sometimes, they try to do "a little more" to prove themselves

  • Desire acceptance from adults and peers and are susceptible to peer pressure, yet want to assert their independence

  • May perform tasks outside their usual work assignments for which they may not have received training

  • Lack experience and physical and emotional maturity needed for certain tasks

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