The Younger Face of Workplace Safety

As times change, so too do the requirements of workers. While the majority of those in charge of businesses have been in the workforce for quite some time, a growing percentage of their employees are quite a bit younger. These workers are not only inexperienced, but also they also quite prone to being injured. Whether through a lack of safety training or simple immaturity, young workers get hurt at a disproportionately high rate. It is important, then, to understand the makeup of the new workforce and to figure out what can be done to prevent future injuries from occurring.

A Younger Workforce
Understanding the dangers posed to teenage workers requires taking a moment to look at the makeup of the workplace. According studies, around 18 million young people (defined as those 24 or younger) are in the workforce, making up around 14 percent of the market. The vast majority of these young people work in the hospitality and food services sector, but they are found in almost every part of the market. Indeed, the more likely there is to be danger to a young person, the more likely they are to be found in that profession -- typically "safe" professions such as office work see the lowest proportion of young workers.

How They Are Paid
These younger workers are not necessarily looking at stable employment or wages, either. Most of them tend to work in the hospitality and food sectors, which have the highest proportion of minimum-wage hourly jobs. Around 20 percent of all young workers make minimum wage or less, and as a group they make up one of the largest demographics in hourly wage labor. Teens and young adults tend to work fewer hours than their older counterparts but are also more likely to make less and to have less stable employment opportunities as a group.

Injury Statistics
Despite the lower pay, this is also a group that seems to be disproportionately prone to being injured. Young adults tend to work in the most injury-prone sectors of the market, leading to one teen work injury roughly every nine minutes. That is equivalent to about 200,000 non-fatal injuries, and about 70 fatal injuries each year. Statistics show that this group is not only most likely to be hurt, but also is far more likely than these workers' older counterparts to actually do something about it: Teens and young adults are twice as likely as their fellow workers to visit the ER for a workplace injury.

Why They Are Injured
So, why are young people so commonly injured? A huge reason, of course, is that they work with dangerous equipment. Half of young workers use power tools in the workplace, and around a quarter of them use fryers. Many others use heavy machinery or work on scaffolding or ladders. Unfortunately, though, less than half of them receive any kind of actual safety training on these devices. Indeed, around 80 percent of the places where teens and young adults work have been reported for safety violations.

What Can Be Done?
There are a few ways in which these injuries can be prevented, and most of them come down to paying attention to the workplace. Around half of all young workers work without nearby supervision, and around a quarter of them have no supervision at all during some shifts. Given that around 35 percent of all injuries happen to unsupervised workers, it seems to be an obvious choice that younger workers have some kind of direct supervision in the workplace.

They also need training; again, more than half of them receive no safety training at all. Not only should there be updated safety videos and training to deal with real-life issues that are relevant to younger workers, but also these workers need hands-on experience to safely use their tools. In addition, these workers desperately need the proper safety equipment so that they will be able to work without falling victim to preventable accidents. Younger workers also need the time to work safely. Most of them feel rushed on the job, and rushed workers are accident-prone workers.

No matter how injuries are caused, there are steps to be taken that can prevent these issues. Whether it's giving young workers more time or more training, it is important that businesses take the time to really figure out how to prevent injuries in a younger workforce. For more information, view our infographic -- you might be surprised by how the numbers represent the reality of workplace injuries.

This article and the infographic linked in it were created by Andrew Deen and colleagues at the Eastern Kentucky University College of Justice and Safety in Richmond, Ky. Visit for information.

Posted by Andrew Deen on Feb 12, 2015