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Children's Health

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Many Teen Jobs Violate Safety Rules

Study Shows Child Labor Laws, Workplace Safety Often Compromised in Teen Jobs
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 5, 2007 -- Many teen jobs are risky and violate federal child labor laws with long shifts on school nights, dangerous equipment, and little supervision, according to a report in the March edition of Pediatrics.

The study comes from researchers including Carol Runyan, PhD, of the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill.

"Parents need to be aware of the work their children are doing and get involved in helping to ensure that businesses provide a safe work environment," Runyan says in a UNC news release.

Workplace Hazards

Runyan's team interviewed 866 working teens by phone in 2003. All had worked retail or service jobs when they were 14-17 years old.

Many of the 395 working in grocery stores or food service establishments broke the law by using hazardous equipment or by serving or selling alcohol.

"Despite federal regulations prohibiting teens under 18 from using certain types of dangerous equipment (e.g., slicers, dough mixers, box crushers, paper balers) or serving or selling alcohol in places where it is consumed, 52% of males and 43% of females reported having performed [at least one] prohibited task," write Runyan and colleagues.

Overall, two-thirds of the teens said they had gotten some on-the-job safety training, and most (60%) said someone checked to make sure they were doing their work correctly at least once daily.

However, 22% of the girls and 30% of the boys said they worked without adult supervision at least one day in a typical week.

In addition, 9% said they had worked alone after dark for at least half an hour on one or more days per week.

The teens reported working about 16 hours weekly, on average, including working after 7 p.m. on school nights three times a week.

It's against child labor laws for teens younger than 16 to work after 7 p.m. on school nights. But 37% of the teens under 16 said they had done so.

Attention to Problem

Pediatricians should become aware of workplace hazards for teen workers and talk about it with teens, the researchers suggest.

"Special attention is warranted when youth are working long, late hours, without adequate adult supervision, or with minimal training," they write.

Runyan says she isn't against teen jobs -- she just wants to see safety become a priority in those jobs. "Though there are benefits to work, not enough attention has been paid to safety," she says in the news release.

The study didn't include teens who don't speak English, so immigrant teens (especially undocumented workers) probably are underrepresented in the data, the researchers say.

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