Work Safely: The 5 Most Dangerous Summer Jobs for Teens

As the 2015-16 school year winds down, many teens will shift their focus from academia and after-school activities to what summer jobs will occupy their warm-weather months.

In total, about 1.6 million teens seek summer employment each year—to put that into perspective, it means that about 50 percent of high school juniors and 75 percent of seniors join the seasonal workforce this time of year.

Unfortunately, when it comes to teens and safety, not all jobs are created equal. Statistically, young workers are twice as likely to be injured on the job as their older counterparts.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 59,800 workers younger than 19 are sent to the emergency room each year for treatment of injuries suffered on the job.

Consider these statistics from the National Consumers League, the nation's oldest nonprofit consumer advocacy agency:

  • A teenager is hurt on the job every nine minutes in the United States
  • In the U.S., in a typical year, a child dies at work every two weeks on average
  • In 2010, 34 workers younger than 18 died at work—and nearly half of them were younger than 16 years old

The NCL each year issues a report of detailing what types of jobs cause the most harm to teenage workers. In its 2015 report, these were among the most dangerous jobs for teens:

  1. Tobacco Harvester—Tobacco worker was listed as the most dangerous job for teenagers in the United States. Tobacco harvesting, a popular job in Pennsylvania Amish country, poses many hazards for teens, including pesticides and the use of dangerous harvesting equipment. There are also the traditional hazards associated with outdoor work: exposure to excessive sun and heat.
  2. Agriculture Worker—Agriculture worker was the second-most dangerous job for teens in 2015, according to the annual report. Agriculture is the number-one industry in Pennsylvania, which means many teens will likely spend their summers working on farms. The NCL says the dangers these teen workers face include exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides. But that's not all: Teens working on farms are often asked to use dangerous equipment, and are sometimes asked to work in confined spaces. Much like their peers working as tobacco harvesters, they must also often contend with exposure to sun and heat.
  3. Traveling Sales Worker—They may seem like awesome opportunities: Jobs for teens that involve travel and sales. Some are door-to-door. Some are abroad. The National Consumers League, though, says they all carry a chance of danger. The hazards? In addition to the inherent danger of conducting door-to-door sales in potentially unsafe neighborhoods, there are other concerns. Many of these jobs require extensive driving, and may involve long-distance travel.
  4. Construction Worker—The dangers for teen members of construction crews are fairly obvious: They are asked to use dangerous tools and machinery, deal with electricity and excessive noise, and often work at sites that are hazardous in their own right (i.e. crews working on the side of a busy roadway).
  5. Outdoor Worker—It's the first job many young people have: Mowing grass or otherwise working for a landscaping company. The risks for these teen workers, though, are significant (and not unlike the ones that present themselves for construction and agricultural workers). There are dangerous chemicals, as well as exposure to sun and dangerous equipment.

Keep Safe This Summer

If your teenager is working this summer, make sure they know that even though they are underage, they still have rights. Pennsylvania law states:

  • Employers must provide workers with a safe and healthy workplace
  • There are set limits on how late a teenager younger than 16 can work on a school night
  • If you are injured on the job, your employer must pay for medical bills
  • You cannot be fired for reporting a workplace injury or hazard

Remember: If you see something that doesn't feel safe (or you are exposed to hazards at work), be sure to say something. If you don't feel comfortable broaching the subject with your boss, be sure to talk to a trusted adult or call the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which regulates workplace safety.

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