Governors Proclaim May "Safe Jobs for Youth Month"

In Massachusetts, 17-year-old James Whittemore was helping his father take down scaffolding when a pole he was holding fell against a high-voltage electrical wire and electrocuted him. Benedelson Ovalle Chavez, also 17, fell to his death while fixing the roof of a church. Neither teen had proper safety equipment or training.

With summer just around the corner and tens of thousands of young people entering the workforce, Gov. Deval Patrick has proclaimed May "Safe Jobs for Youth Month" to focus attention on preventing workplace injuries and deaths. The proclamation was announced at a youth leadership conference, held last week. There, students from across the Commonwealth came together to plan public awareness efforts for their communities to be showcased in May. The youth-led outreach will work to stem the tide of Child Labor Law violations, work-related injuries and deaths.

"Governor Patrick proclaimed May 'Safe Jobs for Youth Month' because he believes that Massachusetts must continue to lead the way in making our workplaces safe for workers, especially teenagers," said Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Suzanne M. Bump. "The Patrick Administration is proud to be working with a partner like MassCOSH, and with young leaders from LEAPS to keep our teenage workers healthy and safe at work."

The three-day conference, called LEAPS (Leadership Education and Action to Promote Safety for young workers) was organized by youth leaders from MassCOSH (the Massachusetts Coalition of Occupational Safety and Health)’s Teens Lead at Work program and the Community Action Agency of Somerville to prevent more young people from losing their lives or becoming injured at work.

Since 2000, eight teens in the Commonwealth have been killed at work, many doing jobs prohibited under the Child Labor Laws. Each year, an estimated 900 minors in the state are treated in emergency rooms for work-related injuries. While workers, in general, can be exposed to many hazards on the job that can result in injury, illness, or even death, young workers are at increased risk. They are sometimes asked to perform tasks for which they lack the size, strength or experience. As new workers, they are also often unfamiliar with workplace hazards, ways to avoid injuries, and their rights as workers.

In California, Gov. Schwarzenegger issued a letter encouraging all young workers  to learn the necessary safety precautions for their jobs and make them a habit to ensure a safe and valuable work experience.  

The California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) also reminds employers and young workers ages 14-19 that May is a time to practice safety skills that will become standard throughout the careers of young workers.  

The annual observance of Safe Jobs for Youth Month gives state labor officials, educators and local leaders an opportunity to help protect young workers from on-the-job injuries.

“We want all young workers to have a healthy and a positive work experience,” said DIR Director John C. Duncan. “The skills they learn at work—even in their first job—will benefit them for a lifetime.”

California young workers under 19 held more than 629,000 jobs in 2007, and as the high school year is beginning to wind down, many teens are now looking for summer jobs. Young workers contribute greatly to California’s workforce and economy.

The DIR’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA, investigated at least four serious injuries and over 3,000 workers’ compensation claims were filed by young California workers last year, according to the Division of Workers’ Compensation. Most of the workers’ compensation injuries involved cuts, strains, bruises, sprains, and burns.

In addition, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement that enforces child labor assessed over $400,000 in fines against businesses for violations of child labor laws in 2007. Nearly 90 percent of those fines were levied against employers who failed to have work permits for the minors they employed.

“Recognizing these dangers that teens face in the workplace, we are committed to providing education and other resources to ensure their safety,” Duncan said.

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