Summer jobs are often considered a rite of passage for teenagers. Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of young adults suffer workplace injuries or worse.
Youth age 16-24 are injured on the job at nearly twice the rate of older workers. Hundreds of teens are hurt on the job every year. The most recent data shows 680 youth, age 17 and under, reported injuries on the job in Washington in 2017.
“During the summer, many teens are getting their first job. Unfortunately, when they’re trying to impress an employer some young workers won’t say anything about an assigned task or lack of supervision, even if they’re worried about it,” said Josie Bryan, youth employment specialist for the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries. “That’s dangerous for everyone.”
There were 162 cases of cuts and lacerations among teen workers last year. Other frequent on-the-job injuries included 102 sprains and strains, and 79 cases of bruises and contusions. Most injuries resulted from slips and falls, contact with hot surfaces such as a stove or oven, or being hit by a falling object.
Parents can play an important role in workplace safety by asking their teen what specifically they are doing on the job, and making sure they’ve received the appropriate training for it. Bryan said, “It may be a difficult conversation, but the more a parent knows about what their teen worker is doing on the job, the better.”
Guidelines for teen workers
All workers have a right to appropriate training and can refuse unsafe work assignments. Still, teens are often reluctant to ask questions or assert their rights, Bryan said. Parents and employers can encourage and reinforce the importance of speaking up.
In general, 14- and 15-year-olds may perform light tasks, such as office work, cashiering, and stocking shelves, while working in business offices, retail or grocery stores, or movie theaters.
Teens age 16 and 17 can do more, including limited work in landscaping and manufacturing. Teens 16 years old cannot drive on the job, and 17-year-olds can drive only under limited circumstances.
Examples of prohibited duties for teens under 18 include working higher than 10 feet off the ground, working alone at night, or around heavy machinery. Work hours also vary by age. Go to www.Lni.wa.gov/TeenWorkers for more information.
Employers with teen workers must have an endorsement on their business license to hire youth, written permission from parents for hours worked and from the school (if in session), and a record of whether the teen has other employment.
Last year, nearly 60 employers received fines totaling over $160,000 for various violations involving teen workers including a lack of permission documents, and missed or late meal and rest breaks.
Raising awareness about teen workplace safety
L&I visits Washington high schools and skill centers year round to speak with young adults about workplace safety. The agency’s “Injured Young Workers Speakers Program” features speakers who were seriously injured on the job as young adults.
The program’s primary speaker, Matt Pomerinke, lost much of his left arm in an incident at a sawmill when he was 21. Pomerinke speaks with thousands of young Washington workers every year about the importance of workplace safety and preventing injuries on the job. He tells teens a workplace injury can change a person’s life forever.
Pomerinke says to remember three things: First, keep in mind what’s important to you when you get home; don’t take safety short cuts at work that may result in you never seeing that again. Second, know your rights and responsibilities, and what your employer can and cannot ask you to do. Third, watch out for each other on the job. If you notice a co-worker doing something that appears unsafe, ask them about it. You may prevent a serious accident from happening.