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Teens Working Summer Jobs Need to Think About Safety

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WebMD Health News

June 1, 2001 -- Summer jobs mean extra cash for teens -- and may even help finance college -- but studies show that part-time work might also put kids in potentially dangerous situations.

"Young workers have high rates of injuries compared to older workers, which means there are more injuries for each hour they work," says Larry Jackson, PhD, a research epidemiologist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). His study of occupational injuries and illnesses appears in a recent CDC report.

The problem: "about one third or more of 16-year-olds work in situations where they have little experience, have little in the way of safety training, and may not have a true appreciation of their injury risk," Jackson tells WebMD. "This combination appears to produce higher injury rates."

In 1998, the overall injury rate throughout the country was 2.9 for every 100 full-time employees over age 15, Jackson's report says. Men incurred more injuries than women, but the rate was highest for younger workers.

Workers who were 15-17 years old had a particularly high rate of burns -- from two- to 10-fold higher than that of older workers, according to Jackson's report. In fact, burns and lacerations accounted for one-half of injuries to workers under age 20.

Other types of injuries: punctures, amputations, and torn nerves were the most frequent, followed by sprains and strains, then bruises, scrapes and hematomas (collection of blood under the skin). The majority of injuries involved hands and fingers, says Jackson.

Also, most of the injuries to younger workers were related to jobs in services and retail trades -- and especially in fast-food eating establishments, the report says.

Toxic exposure at work is also a big hazard for teens, according to another study published last year in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. That study found that of 7,000 work-related toxic exposures reported between 1991 and 1996, nearly 300 involved adolescents. Boys were the most likely victims, with 65% of the total number. Of the teens who were injured, 58% were treated in an emergency room, and 16% were judged to have moderate to severe injuries -- although no deaths were reported.

Cleaning compounds, paints, solvents, glues, caustics, hydrocarbons, and bleaches were the substances most frequently causing the injuries. The most dangerous places -- as in the recent CDC report -- were in food service facilities such as fast food restaurants. Automotive services and general retail stores were also common sites for injuries. Jobs in the construction industry and hotels were least likely for toxic injuries.

Many people are not aware of child labor laws, which could help curb some of these injuries, says Dawn Castillo, MPH, senior research epidemiologist at NIOSH. "A lot of people are not aware of the specifics of them, including employers, parents, kids themselves, school personnel involved in signing work permits," she tells WebMD.

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