For many teens, a first job means independence and a significant step towards adulthood. Few ever consider the possibility that they might be injured on the job or even lose their lives because their workplace is unsafe. Still, studies show that teens are injured at a higher rate than older workers. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in the U.S. a teen is injured on the job every once every nine minutes. The statistics make it clear that employers need to do more to ensure the safety of their youngest employees.
Part of the problem may be that teens do not understand their rights. They may not know when they can say no to a request that places them in danger. They may not know that they have a right to receive health and safety training in a way they can understand. They may not know how to handle chemicals, avoid hazards and respond in emergency situations. The feeling of invulnerability that many people experience in their teens does not lend itself to having a safe work experience.
Employers share a large part of the blame when teen workers are injured. Workers under 18 years of age are restricted from many forms of labor. Despite these restrictions, teens may be asked to use tools, such as meat slicers, circular saws, wood chippers and other devices by their employers. Unsafe tools are a common cause of injury and young workers are, therefore, restricted from jobs that require them. Workers of any age are entitled to a safe workplace. If your employer asks you to do anything that you feel will place you in danger, you should speak up about it.
State and federal laws are in place to protect workers, young and old, from workplace injuries. When followed properly, safety rules protect workers from burns, eye injuries, chemical exposure, falling objects, hearing loss, electrocution and many other forms of injury. When you see an unsafe practice that threatens you or your fellow employees, you have the right and the responsibility to take action.