June 17, 2004 -- As high schools let out, employers will be bombarded with young, cheap labor. But before you hire that bright-eyed, eager teenager for the summer, make sure you're prepared to keep an eye on him: more than 70,000 workers under the age of 18 require emergency room treatment each year, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). That doesn't even cover the injuries that don't make it to the emergency room, which NIOSH estimates to be an additional 150,000 a year. More disturbingly, an average of nearly 70 teens die from work-related injuries each year.
There are an average of 2.9 million workers between the ages of 15 and 17 employed each month during the school year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number jumps to 4 million in the summertime.
Teens most commonly work in food preparation, service jobs, laborer jobs, administrative support jobs and agricultural jobs. Each of these poses special risks and, because teens may only be there for a short time, they aren't always properly trained to handle them or are aware of basic safety operating procedures.
Federal agencies are now stepping up to assist businesses and teens assess the dangers and work to limit them. The Department of Labor launched the "YouthRules!" initiative in 2002. The program lays out basic child labor laws, such as the number of hours a child can work and what jobs they can work.
Particular attention needs to be paid to educating small businesses about the importance of safety, as more than 30 percent of all fatal injuries to young workers occurred in family businesses. On Monday, the National Federation of Independent Business and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced an alliance to make resources readily available to small businesses concerning health and safety information, as well as compliance assistance.