More Oversight Needed to Protect Youth Workers, Study Says

The report, published recently in Public Health Reports, said that 88 youths under age 20 died from work-related injuries in 2010, while 20,000 missed work in private industry due to occupational-related illness or injury.

Dozens of American youth under the age of 20 die on the job each year while thousands more are injured, often due to poorly regulated work environments, according to a new report released by the Colorado School of Public Health.

“We don’t tend to think of child labor as a major issue in the U.S., but we should,” said the study’s lead author Carol Runyan, Ph.D., MPH, and professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health. “Laws governing the employment of youth ages 14 to 17 in this country are often very lenient and in the case of family farms virtually non-existent.”

Runyan, who led a group of American and Canadian scholars and public health professionals on the project, is now calling for stricter oversight of working conditions for the young including those employed in agriculture.

“Work can help young people develop skills, explore career options, earn money, and gain self-esteem,” Runyan said. “But without adequate safeguards in place, work can also be dangerous for youth.”

The report, published recently in Public Health Reports, said that 88 youths under age 20 died from work-related injuries in 2010, while 20,000 missed work in private industry due to occupational-related illness or injury.

More than 17.6 million workers under age 25 are employed in the U.S. In Canada, nearly 3 million workers between ages 15 and 24 were employed in 2010.

“From a fatality standpoint, farm work is the most dangerous occupation for kids,” Runyan said. “In farm work, youths are working around heavy equipment, digging and cutting with sharp implements. There are deaths almost every year from young people suffocating in grain bins.”

Runyan and colleagues John Lewko, Ph.D., of Laurentian University in Ontario and Kimberly Rauscher, ScD, of West Virginia University, are using the report to advocate for stronger federal monitoring of youth worker safety, including ensuring that children working on farms are better protected. They are also encouraging more research into preventing workplace injuries among young people.

“We need to make sure that the jobs our kids take are safe,” Runyan said. “But ultimately it’s not the responsibility of 15-year-olds to ensure their safety—it’s the responsibility of employers.”

The project was funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the OntarioNeurotrauma Foundation.

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