NCL’s 2010 Five Worst Jobs for Teens

[This report was originally issued in Spring 2010]

National Consumers League Report:

2010’s Five Worst Teen Jobs

  1. Traveling Youth Sales Crews
  2. Construction and Height Work
  3. Outside Helper: Landscaping, Groundskeeping and Lawn Service
  4. Agriculture: Harvesting Crops
  5. Driver/Operator: Forklifts, Tractors, and ATV’s

[The five worst jobs for teens are not ranked in order]

It’s that time of the year. Teenagers are starting to think about their summer jobs. Where will they work? What kind of work will they do? What will it pay?

In 2008, approximately 2.3 million adolescents aged 15 to 17 years worked in the U.S. Unfortunately, the global recession has impacted teen hiring here in the U.S. and jobs are particularly hard to come by for teens these days. According to the New York Times in April 2010, the U.S. economy lost 8.2 million jobs in the previous two years and the teen unemployment rate had risen 26 percent, compared to 9.7 percent for the nation at large. Increasingly, teens are competing with more experienced adults for jobs. The National Consumer League (NCL) worries that the difficulty in finding jobs will lead teens to take jobs that are too dangerous for them.

Jobs for teens are an important part of youth development, providing both needed income and teaching valuable work skills, but we urge teenage workers to ask an important question: Will the job I take be a safe one? The wrong choice could harm you or even kill you.

Each day in America, 14 workers die. In 2008, 34 workers under 18 died in the workplace.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to accidents both in normal life and at work. Accidents are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 19. In fact, more youth between 10 and 19 die from injuries than die from all other causes combined.

The last six months have seen a number of gruesome news stories about teen work deaths:

  • A 14-year-old in Poquoson, Virginia who was working for a lawn care company was killed instantly when he was pulled into a wood chipper last November;
  • A 17-year-old doughnut shop worker fell into a normally-covered cesspool and drowned in Smithtown, New York this March (authorities believe the cover got knocked off during snow plowing); and
  • The body of 18-year-old Jennifer Hammond—last seen six years earlier selling magazines door-to-door—was discovered in Saratoga County, New York. Hammond was the apparent victim of a homicide.

Could these deaths have been prevented? Two of the jobs mentioned above are on our list of “Worst Jobs for Teens” that we recommend teenagers avoid. The 14-year-old killed by the wood chipper, Frank Gornik, was too young to be legally working with potentially deadly equipment like a wood chipper. Better knowledge of the law, which requires a worker to be 18 to work with a wood chipper, may have prevented his death.

Deaths from Driving

The most common way for a teen worker to die is in a traffic accident. According to one recent study on unintentional injuries, seven in 10 accidental deaths result from car crashes. In 2008 data from the federal government, 43 of 97 deaths of workers under 19 came in transportation accidents.

We encourage young workers to look for jobs in which they do not drive, are not regularly driven by others or are not driven great distances. When in a car, young workers should wear their seat belt. They should ask that their driver not be distracted by using a cell phone, eating, or other disruptions. They should insist that they drive at safe speeds. According to several studies, the perception that driving in rural areas is safe is very misleading. Rural crashes are more frequent and more severe on a per capita or per mile basis. One report estimated that some rural counties are 100 times more dangerous than many urban counties.

Restaurants, Grocery Stores & Retail Stores

In terms of raw numbers, retail establishments, restaurants, and grocery stores are three of the largest employers of teen workers.

Many teens work in restaurants are at risk of burns and other kitchen-related injuries. In some states, restaurants rank first in the number of youth work injuries, although the injuries are often less severe than in many of the occupations cited in this report. Fryers, meat slicers, knives, compactors, and wet, greasy floors can all combine to form a dangerous work environment.

At times, teenagers work in what is typically a safe environment but do unsafe tasks. For example, grocery stores employ a lot of teen workers and for the most part they provide a safe work environment. However, when workers are rushing or are improperly trained accidents can happen. Workers under 18 are allowed to load trash compactors—found in most grocery stores—but they are prohibited from operating them because of a number of gruesome accidents that have occurred to users in the past. Safety specialists worry that improperly trained youth will not obey the law. Similarly, minors—unless they are working in agriculture–are not allowed to drive a forklift, but young people will sometimes get behind the wheel anyway.

Last year, a woman, barely 18, working in a grocery in Indiana, lost her hand trying to clean a grinder in a grocery store. In April, a New York supermarket was cited for illegally employing a 17-year-old to slice deli meat in violation of child labor hazardous orders.

Retail stores may seem like a safe environment but teens can get hurt lifting boxes, cutting boxes open, crushing boxes, and falling from ladders.

Mall and grocery parking lots are often the site of car accidents and can also be dangerous for young workers.

Nearly all work places hold some danger. Our goal is not to paralyze teen workers with fear but to get them and employers to minimize the risks involved.

Workplace Violence

Restaurants and retail establishments also hold risks of workplace violence. According to 2008 federal data, 17 workers between the ages of 16 and 19 died from workplace violence.

In January, an Illinois teenager was beaten and sexually assaulted after being abducted from the sandwich shop where she worked alone at night. In some inner cities, young fast-food workers have reported routinely having to deal with gang members who come in to harass and rob them.

Teen workers should not be asked to work alone at night. Employers should discuss security procedures with employees in detail. The Illinois teen who was abducted had become aware that a suspicious person was watching her but did not call the police. She texted her concerns to her boyfriend who rushed to the workplace. He arrived too late to prevent the abduction

Causes of Injuries

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the causes of workplace injuries typically fall into these seven categories:

  • Unsafe equipment;
  • Stressful Conditions;
  • Inadequate safety training;
  • Inadequate supervision;
  • Dangerous work that is illegal or inappropriate for youth;
  • Trying to hurry; and
  • Alcohol and drug use.

The most common causes of death for the 97 young workers (under 19) who died in 2008:

1) transportation accidents;

2) contact with objects and equipment;

3) violent acts;

4) exposure to harmful substances or environments,

5) falls;

6) getting caught in or crushed by collapsing materials; and

7) drowning or submersion.

Of those 97 youth deaths, in 34 cases the worker was under 18. Of those 34 deaths, 23 involved 16- and 17-year-olds and 11—or 32 percent—involved workers under 16. If parents are thinking that employers would only permit older teens to do dangerous tasks and that younger teens are safer, the statistics do not support that logic.

Males are much more at risk than females. Only one in every 14 adult workers who died at work was a women. Of the 5,071 workers who died in 2008, 1.9 percent were 19 or under.

Many youth involved in workplace accidents are fortunate enough to escape death but receive serious injuries. In 2007, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that there were 48,600 work-related injuries and illnesses among youth 15 to 17 years of age that were treated I hospital emergency departments. NIOSH believes that two out of three injury victims do not go to the emergency room and that the real number of injured workers is about 146,000—or 406 every day.

The National Consumers League issues the 2010 Five Worst Teen jobs to remind teens and their parents to help youth workers to choose their summer jobs wisely. Summer jobs can contribute a lot to a child’s development and maturity and teach new skills and responsibilities but the safety of each job must be a consideration.

Many teens lack the experience and sense of caution needed to protect themselves from workplace jobs. In government speak, “young workers have unique and substantial risks for work-related injuries…because of their biologic, social, and economic characteristics.” They are reluctant to refuse to do tasks because they are dangerous or to ask for safety information.

We ask parents to be involved in their teen’s job hunting and decision making, helping them to select safe employment. An important first step in the process is for parents and teens to acquaint themselves with the laws that protect working teens. Read what a teen worker can and cannot do at The site provides information for young workers in each of the fifty states.

Other practical advice for parents:

Be involved
Before the job search begins, make decisions with your teen about appropriate employment. Set limits on how many hours per week he or she may work. Make sure your child knows you are interested in his or her part-time job.

Check it out
Meet your teen’s supervisor, request a tour of the facilities, and inquire about the company’s safety record. Ask about safety training, duties, and equipment. Don’t assume the job is safe. Every workplace has hazards.

Talk, talk, talk – and listen, too
Ask questions about your teen’s job. Ask teachers to give you a heads-up if grades begin to slip. Frequently ask your teen what she or he did at work and discuss any problems or concerns.

Watch for signs
Is the job taking a toll on your teen emotionally or physically? How is your child’s performance at school? If there’s a loss of interest in or energy for school or social activities, the job may be too demanding.

Our tips for teen workers follow:

Know the Legal Limits
To protect young workers like you, state and federal laws limit the hours you can work and the kinds of work you can do. For state and federal child labor laws, visit Youth Rules.

Play it Safe
Always follow safety training. Working safely and carefully may slow you down, but ignoring safe work procedures is a fast track to injury. There are hazards in every workplace — recognizing and dealing with them correctly may save your life.

Ask Questions
Ask for workplace training — like how to deal with irate customers or how to perform a new task or use a new machine. Tell your supervisor, parent, or other adult if you feel threatened, harassed, or endangered at work.

Make Sure the Job Fits
If you can only work certain days or hours, if you don’t want to work alone, or if there are certain tasks you don’t want to perform, make sure your employer understands and agrees before you accept the job.

Don’t Flirt with Danger
Be aware of your environment at all times. It’s easy to get careless after a while when your tasks have become predictable and routine. But remember, you’re not indestructible. Injuries often occur when employees are careless or goofing off.

Trust Your Instincts
Following directions and having respect for supervisors are key to building a great work ethic. However, if someone asks you to do something that feels unsafe or makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. Many young workers are injured — or worse — doing work that their boss asked them to do.

One safety expert suggests that if a job requires safety equipment other than a hard hat, goggles, or gloves, it’s not appropriate for minors.

Five Worst Teen Jobs

Many specific jobs pose potential dangers to young workers. The five jobs named on NCL’s list of “five worst teen jobs” have proven to be especially dangerous based on anecdotal evidence and federal statistics.

Traveling Youth Crews Performing Door-to-Door Sales

The startling discovery of the remains of a long-missing 18-year-old girl, Jennifer Hammond, in October 2009, served as a painful reminder that traveling door-to-door sales jobs are very dangerous. A Littleton, Colorado native, Hammond, had last been seen six years earlier in a mobile home park in Milton, New York. She failed to show up at a designated pickup spot two hours later. Six years later, a hunter found her remains in a forest in Saratoga County, New York.

Parents should not allow their children to take a traveling sales job. The dangers are too great. Without parental supervision, teens are at too great a risk of being victimized. Traveling sales crew workers are typically asked to go to the doors of strangers and sometimes enter their homes—a very dangerous thing for a young person to do.

Frequent crime reports involving traveling sales crews suggests that the environment they present is not a safe one for teen workers. And with 44 percent of young worker fatalities coming from vehicle accidents, NCL urges teens not to accept any job that involves driving long distances or for long periods of time.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warned consumers in May 2009 that deceptive sales practices are common in door-to-door sales—the group had received 1,100 complaints in the prior year.  “Experience tells us that customers aren’t the only victims of [these scams],” said Michael Coil, President of  the Better Business bureau of Northern Indiana, “the young salespeople are also potentially being taken advantage of by their employers and forced to work long hours, endure substandard living conditions and have their wages withheld from them.”

Unfortunately, young sales people are also vulnerable to violence acts by crew leaders. The New York Times reported in October 2009, that “two young people working as itinerant magazine salesmen” in Lakewood, Washington were beaten with baseball bats and golf clubs after they told their bosses they wanted to quit. The victims, whose names and ages were not identified in the article, were hospitalized and their six assailants arrested.

“The industry’s out of control as far as violence,” Earline Williams, the founder of Parent Watch, one of the groups that follows the industry told the Orlando Sentinel in a December 2009 article that reported the beating of Brian Emery, a sales crew member called “The Kid” by his colleagues [Emery’s age was not reported]. New to traveling sales, Emery, told deputies that his team members gave him $12 to buy beer but became enraged when he bought the wrong brand. Two men were charged with beating Emery, one of whom broke a beer bottle across his face in the incident which took place in Osceola County, Florida.
In May 2008, police in Spokane, Washington investigated a 16-year-old’s claim that she was held as a captive worker by a door-to-door sales company. She escaped after the sales crew leaders beat up her boyfriend because he wasn’t selling enough magazines.

Many youth desperate for work are lured in with promises that they will earn good money, travel the country, and meet fun people selling door-to-door. One young man was told that the experience would be like MTV’s Road Rules.

The reality is often far different. Many salesmen work six days a week and 10 to 14 hours a day. Unscrupulous traveling sales companies charge young workers for expenses like rent and food that requires them to turn over all the money they ostensibly make from selling magazines or goods. When they try to quit or leave the crew, they are told they can’t. Disreputable companies have been known to seize young workers’ money, phone cards, and IDs and restrict their ability to call their parents. Drug use and underage drinking are not uncommon. A New York Times report in 2007 found that crew members often make little money after expenses are deducted. On some crews, lowest sellers are forced to fight each other or punished by being made to sleep on the floor.

Few of the magazine sales teams do background checks on their workers, Phil Ellenbecker, told the Orlando Sentinel. Ellenbecker runs an industry watchdog group based in Wisconsin that has tracked about 300 felony crimes and 86 deaths attributed to door-to-door vendors. “It’s not uncommon to get recently released felons knocking on your door trying to sell you magazines,” said Ellenbecker.

One salesman who spent 10 years on crews and eventually became a crew manager told the Indiana Student Daily newspaper, “I regret a lot of stuff I did….I’d become this monster. Lying to kids, telling them how good the job was, and it wasn’t a good job at all.”

A tough economy has made it tougher to sell magazines and according to Earline Williams of Parent Watch, that has meant more violence on crews and more sales employees abandoned. “It’s gotten meaner,” she told NCL.

Among the possible dangers of working on raveling sales crews:


In addition to the suspected murder of Jennifer Hammond in 2003, other relatively recent murders:

  • In November 2007, Tracie Anaya Jones, 19, who was a member of a traveling sales crew, was found dead of stab wounds. Originally from Oregon, Jones was last seen working in Little Rock Arkansas before her body was found 150 miles away in Memphis, Tennessee. Her killing remains unsolved and was featured on  America’s Most Wanted Web site.
  • In Rapid City, South Dakota in April 2004, a 41-year-old man was charged with murdering a 21-year-old woman who came to his home to sell magazines.

Robbery: Working in unknown neighborhoods poses risks, especially if you are carrying money from sales or goods to sell.

  • Although not part of a traveling sales crew, a 12-year-old selling candy for a school fundraiser in a Jacksonville, Florida neighborhood in March 2009 was robbed by three individuals who drove up to her in a car.
  • In April 2003, a 16-year-old Texas youth selling candy was robbed and shot in the stomach by two teens.


  • In May 2009 in Bethesda, Maryland, a 19-year-old woman selling magazines was attacked and nearly raped by someone she encountered while selling magazines door-to-door.
  • In Lawton, Oklahoma, A 19-year-old Nevada woman was selling magazines door-to-door in February 2009 when her potential customer invited her in. The man gave her something to drink and she awoke several hours later and realized she had been raped.
  • A 19-year-old Ohio magazine sales person was assaulted by three men who expressed an interest in buying magazines. The victim was waiting for a pickup by co-workers when she was approached, abducted, and sexually assaulted (April 2003).

Reckless driving: traveling sales crews face greater risk of vehicle accidents and in many cases, crew leaders are driving without licenses or driving on suspended licenses. Vehicles are not always maintained properly and the use of 15-passenger vans in some cases presents safety concerns.

  • In November 2005, two teenagers were killed and seven were injured when the van they were riding in flipped near Phoenix, Arizona. The vehicle crossed a median strip, and ended up in the opposite lanes of a freeway. All nine occupants, who worked for a magazine subscription company, were thrown from the vehicle.
  • A month earlier, 20-year-old, James Crawford, was ejected and killed from a van crash in Georgia. Eighteen young adults were crammed into the 15-passenger van. The driver fell asleep and was allegedly driving under the influence of marijuana. The occupants were heading north from Florida to sell magazine subscriptions.
  • Two young salespersons, age 18 and 19, were ejected from a vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene after a vehicle accident in which 15 salespersons were crammed into a 10-year-old SUV that rolled over on a highway in New Mexico (September 2002).
  • In 1999, seven individuals travelling as a sales crew were killed in an accident in Janesville, Wisconsin. Five other passengers were injured, including one girl who was paralyzed. The driver of the van, who was trying to elude a police chase, did not have a valid drivers license and attempted to switch places with another driver when the accident occurred. The fatality victims included Malinda Turvey, 18, who has inspired ground-breaking legislation—Malinda’s Act—which passed in Wisconsin in April 2009 to regulate traveling sales crews.

The young salesman told NCL about some of the driving dangers, which included unsafe vans and unsafe drivers: “You’ve got drivers that have licenses but they’re suspended. They shouldn’t be driving [and] they let young adults drive under the influence.”

Desertion: young salesmen have been stranded if they try to quit or do not sell enough.

Parent Watch’s founder Williams told the Orlando Sentinel in 2009 that she handles two to six phone calls a day from frightened, stranded workers seeking bus fare home.

In the summer of 2009, the National Consumers League received a call from one stranded salesman, Ricky, who had been left on the side of the road a thousand miles from home with no money to pay for transportation.

Exposure: crews often work in bad weather, walking miles in blazing heat or in cold weather.

Arrest: crews often operate without proper licenses and permits and young sales people are subject to arrest.

Sexual exploitation: young workers, far from home, are at special risk of exploitation from older crew leaders and crew members.

Parent Watch estimates that as many as 30,000 to 40,000 individuals are involved in traveling sales crews, selling magazines, candy, household cleaners, and other items door-to-door each year.

Construction and Height Work

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics fatality records, construction and roofing are two of the ten most dangerous jobs in America. In 2007, an estimated 372,000 workers of all ages were injured in construction accidents and construction led other industries in the number of deaths among all workers: 1,178. A construction worker is nearly three times as likely to die from a work accident as the average American worker.

Young workers are especially at risk given their relative inexperience on work sites and commonplace dangers construction sites often pose. According to NIOSH in 2002, youth 15-17 working in construction had greater than seven times the risk for fatal injury as youth in other industries, and greater than twice the risk of workers aged 25-44 working in construction. In a 2003 release, NIOSH noted that despite only employing 3 percent of youth workers, construction was the third leading cause of death for young workers.

In June 2009, a 9-year-old Alabama boy at a construction site fell through a skylight and was seriously injured. Press reports did not reveal if the boy was actually working, but according to state inspectors his presence at a site at which minors are prohibited from working is considered evidence of employment under the law.

In 2008, five working youths died in falls—a common cause of death in construction accidents. Among workers 18 and 19, the number of deaths from falls was 11.

Examples of recent construction deaths among teens can be found below:

  • In January, Danilo Riccardi Jr. was trying to get water from a trench so that he could mix concrete when he fell into the large room-sized hole. A muddy mixture of sand and water soon trapped him like quicksand. By the time rescuers arrived, the boy was dead, submerged under the liquid mixture. It took almost three hours to dig his body out.
  • A 15-year-old Lawrenceville, Georgia boy, Luis Montoya, performing demolition work, fell down an empty escalator shaft 40 feet to his death. According to a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Labor, minors—defined in the state as being 15 years old—are not allowed to work on construction sites. The company that employed the boy, Demon Demo had been fined by OSHA in 2005 and 2008 because workers did not wear required safety harnesses to prevent falls. The fine in the second violation was reduced from a $4,000 penalty to $2,000. Montoya was not wearing a safety harness when he fell.
  • Bendelson Ovalle Chavez, a 17-year-old resident of Lynn, Massachusetts, was fixing a church roof in September 2007 when he fell 20 feet to his death. Employed by the company two months earlier, he had received no training or information about how to prevent falls, according to a report by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health.
  • In July 2007, James Whittemore, 17 died while taking down scaffolding at a construction project in Taunton, Massachusetts. The teen was helping his father remove the scaffolding when a pole he was holding fell against a high-voltage electrical wire and he was electrocuted. The boy died in his father’s arms.
  • That same month, Travis DeSimone, 17, was working on a Marlborough, New Hampshire farm, converting a barn into a kennel when a concrete wall collapsed and killed him.

Roofing, siding, sheet metal work, electrical work, concrete work all pose dangers. Falls, contact with electric current, transportation incidents, and being stuck by objects are among the most common causes of construction accident deaths.

Federal child labor law prohibits construction work for anyone under 16 years of age (although youths 14 and 15 may work in offices for construction firms if they are away from the construction site).

Labor law regarding work at heights has some inconsistencies. Minors 16 years and older may work in heights, as long as it is not on or about a roof. They can work on a ladder, scaffold, in trees, and on structures like towers, silos, and bridges.

Your state may have a higher minimum age.

Outside Helper, Landscaping, Groundskeeping, and Lawn Service

Landscaping and yard work is a frequent entry point into the job market for teenagers. However, the sharp implements and machinery used to do the work present dangers for teens. Often young workers are left unsupervised for long periods of time. The job also requires a great deal of time spent driving in vehicles which, as we have noted, is a dangerous work-related activity.

These incidents highlight the dangers of outside work:

  • In November 2009 in Poquoson, Virginia, Frank Anthony Gornik, 14, died instantly as he used a shovel to push debris into a wood chipper and the machine grabbed his shovel, pulling him in before he could release his grip. Virginia law prohibits anyone under 18 from using a wood chipper.
  • A 15-year-old Florida youth died of electrocution while trimming trees. The youth was standing on an aluminum ladder holding a pole saw when it hit a wire. (May 2005)
  • A 16-year-old Oklahoma youth died when he was struck by lightening while working as a general laborer for a landscaping company. The youth was standing in the bed of a dump truck, where he was manually moving pallets of rocks from the truck to a front-end loader. The youth had worked for the company for three weeks. (July 2004)
  • A 15-year-old Maryland youth was killed when he fell into a mulch spreading truck. The machine, called a bark blower, churns mulch with a large spinning device called an auger and then disperses it through a hose. The machine had jammed and the teen had gotten on top of the truck to see why the mechanism wasn’t working. He had been with the company for a couple of weeks. (May 2004)

Landscaping, groundskeeping, and lawn service workers use hand tools such as shovels, rakes,  saws, hedge and brush trimmers, and axes, as well as power lawnmowers, chain saws, snow blowers, and power shears. Some use equipment such as tractors and twin-axle vehicles. These jobs often involve working with pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals. Rollovers from tractors, ATVs, and movers are a risk. Tree limb cutting and lifting and carrying inappropriately heavy loads are another potential danger; so is handling chemicals, pesticides, and fuel. Contact with underground or overhead electrical cables presents electrocution dangers.

Federal Child Labor Law

Minors who are age 16 and older may be employed in landscaping and operate power mowers, chain saws, wood chippers, and trimmers.  The operation of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) or tractors for non-agricultural labor is only prohibited if the equipment is used for transporting passengers, an activity prohibited for minors under age 18.


Farms look safe but they are actually very dangerous workplaces. Agriculture is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous industries in America. In its 2008 edition of Injury Facts, The National Safety Council ranked it as the most dangerous industry with 28.7 deaths per 100,000 adult workers. According to Kansas State University (KSU) in 2007, there were 715 deaths on farms involving workers of all ages. More than 80,000 workers suffered disabling injuries. Working with livestock and farm machinery caused most of the injuries and tractors caused most of the deaths, according to John Slocombe, an extension farm safety specialist at KSU.

Agriculture poses dangers for teens as well. According NIOSH, between 1995 and 2002, an estimated 907 youth died on American farms. Between 1992 and 2000, more than four in 10 work-related fatalities of young workers occurred on farms. Half of the fatalities in agriculture involved youth under age 15. For workers 15 to 17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces, according to U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2006, an estimated 5,800 children and adolescents were injured while performing farm work. Every summer young farmworkers are run over or lose limbs to tractors and machinery. Heat stress and pesticides pose grave dangers. Riding in open pickups is another danger on farms.

These recent injuries and fatalities also highlight the danger of agricultural work:

  • David Yenni, a 13-year-old was killed in a grain loading accident at a Petaluma, California mill in August 2009. The boy, who was working with his father, climbed on top of an open trailer for unknown reasons just as the father was emptying it into an underground storage tank. Somehow he became trapped in the funneling material. Would-be rescuers were able to grab his arm but could not free him from the grain until it was too late.
  • In May 2009, Cody Rigsby, a Colorado 17-year-old was working in a grain bin when he vanished. It took rescuers six hours to find his body.
  • While driving a tractor as he loaded stone in Skaneateles, N.Y. in October 2008, John Rice, 16, lost control. The tractor began rolling backwards down a hill. The tractor overturned, ejecting Rice, running him over and causing critical injuries that nearly killed him.
  • In September 2008, Jacob Kruwell, age 14, was driving a tractor in Lake Mills, Wisconsin when the tractor’s wheels went off the pavement, causing the load it was carrying to shift and flip the tractor which landed on top of the boy, killing him.
  • Matthew Helmick, 16, died when the tractor he was driving overturned on the farm that his family owned in Doylestown, Ohio in August 2008. According to reports, Helmick was turning the tractor into a driveway and made the turn too fast, hitting an embankment and causing the tractor to flip. He was pinned underneath the vehicle.
  • A 15-year-old boy, Michael Paul Young, died in June 2008 on a Western Kentucky farm as he worked beside his father and brothers. Young fell into a truck load of grain that acted like quicksand. He sank into the grain and died of asphyxiation before his family and fellow workers could rescue him.
  • In May 2008, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-year-old farmworker died of heat stroke after working nine and a half hours in a California vineyard as temperatures hovered in the mid-90s. Jimenez was pregnant at the time. According to the United Farm Workers and the girl’s family, the labor contractor in the vineyard ignored California laws that require workers to be given breaks and provided with shade. Workers also said they were not given adequate amounts of water.
  • Edilberto Cardenas, 17, died in a Groveland, Florida citrus grove in January 2008—his first day on the job. Cardenas was emptying bags of oranges into a truck when then truck backed up and ran him over.
  • In December 2006, a 10-year-old Florida youth accidentally ran over his 2-year-old brother while driving a pickup truck in a Florida orange grove. The boy had been driving trucks in the fields since he was only 8 years old.
  • A 13-year-old Illinois youth died after he became entangled in the beaters of a forage wagon. The youth was helping his cousin feed cattle in a farm pasture. The death occurred when the boy climbed on the front of the wagon to dislodge clumps of hay. The legs of his pants became entangled in the rotating beaters. The youth was spending the summer at a relative’s farm in Minnesota where the accident occurred. (September 2005)

While many farm deaths occur to the children of farmers on their parents’ farms, the same dangers that imperil the sons and daughters of farmers endanger hired farmworkers.

Loopholes in current child labor law allow children to work in agriculture at younger ages than children can work in other industries. It is legal in many states for a 12-year-old to work all day under the hot summer sun with tractors and pickup trucks dangerously criss-crossing the fields, but that same 12-year-old could not be hired to make copies in an air-conditioned office building. Because of the labor law exemptions, large numbers of 12- and 13-year-olds—usually the sons and daughters of migrant and seasonal farmworkers—can be found working in the fields in the United States.

Farmworker advocates believe that an estimated 400,000 youth under 16 help harvest our nation’s crops each year, and the exemptions allow even younger kids to work legally on very small farms. Field investigations by the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, a member of Child Labor Coalition, have found children working in the fields at the age of 9 and 10. NCL and the Child Labor Coalition believe the long hours of farm work for children under 14 is too deleterious to their health, education, and well-being to be allowed and we are supporting legislative efforts that would apply child labor age restrictions to all industries, including agriculture.

On May 5, 2010, Human Rights Watch released “Fields of Peril—Child Labor in U.S. Agriculture”, the results of a year-long investigation. The report details the arduous work and harsh conditions that many youths who work in farm work are subjected to:

Exemptions in the law also allow teens working on farms to perform tasks deemed hazardous in other industries when they are only 16—as opposed to 18 for the other industries. For example, a worker must be 18 to drive a forklift at retail warehouse but a 16-year-old is legally allowed to drive a forklift at an agricultural processing facility. NCL does not believe such exemptions are justified. Driving a forklift is a very dangerous activity and should not be undertaken by minors.

In agriculture, 16- and 17-year-olds can work inside fruit, forage or grain storage units, which kill workers every year in suffocation accidents; they can also operate dangerous equipment like corn pickers, hay mowers, feed grinders, power post hole diggers, auger conveyors and power saws. NCL and the Child Labor Coalition, which it coordinates, are working to eliminate unjustified exemptions to U.S. Department of Labor safety restrictions based on age.

According to SafeKids USA, only about 5 percent of farms in the United States are covered by safety regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Children working on family farms with their parents are not protected by safety laws.

Driver/Operator, Forklifts, Tractors, and All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)

Forklifts, tractors, and all-terrain vehicles pose dangers for many young workers. Several youth tractor accidents have been detailed in our section on agricultural fatalities and injuries. Some recent forklift and vehicle accidents involving youth:

  • On May 11, 2009, Miguel Herrera-Soltera drove a forklift up a ramp when it tipped over. The boy fell out of the forklift which landed on top of him. Fellow workers used another forklift to extricate the boy but he died at the hospital.
  • Nathan Lundin, 12, died in Gifford, Indiana in March 2009, when he was struck by an object falling off a moving forklift at his family’s business, Upright Iron Works, Inc.
  • In March 2008, a 15-year-old boy suffered a serious leg injury in a Portland, Oregon wrecking lot when a 17-year-old co-worker operating a front loader knocked over a stack of cars and part of a concrete wall collapsed onto the younger boy. No one under 18 is allowed to work in an auto wrecking area, or operate a front loader, according to The Oregonian newspaper.
  • John Sanford, 18, a forklift operator in Toledo mistakenly thought he put his forklift in park. The machine was in neutral and when Sanford walked in front of it, he was pinned between a trash receptacle and the lift and killed. (December 2007)
  • A 17-year-old in California died when the forklift he was operating at a grain and hay store rolled over on him. The youth had only been employed one hour and misguidedly took the initiative to operate the forklift. (June 2004)
  • A 9-year-old ran over and killed his 6-year-old brother while driving a skid-steer loader in Michigan in 2004.
  • In Iowa, an 8-year-old was killed helping his father and neighbor chop hay for silage on their dairy farm. The youth was helping, driving to and from the field location on a 4-wheel ATV to assist his father hook up each silage wagon. The boy drove up a slight embankment causing the ATV to roll over on its top and pinning him to the ground. (Summer 2004).
  • A 13-year-old Arkansas youth died when the ATV he was driving tipped over on a levee between catfish ponds. The minor was pinned under the water and drowned. (March 2003).

Each year, nearly 100 workers are killed in forklift accidents. Another 20,000 workers are seriously injured in forklift-related accidents. Many of these injuries occur when workers are run over, struck by, or pinned by a forklift. U.S. child labor law mandates an age of 18 to operate a forklift unless the forklift is being operated on an agricultural facility—then the youth operating the forklift can be 16. NCL can think of no rationale for this different safety standard and child labor advocates in Washington are pressuring the federal government to raise the age to 18 for all operators.

Tractor-related incidents are the most common type of agricultural fatality in the U.S. Increasingly, tractors are being used in non-agricultural industries, like construction, manufacturing, and landscaping. Tractor overturns are the most common event among tractor fatalities, and was the primary cause of tractor-related fatality among youth workers.

ATVs resulted in 44,700 serious injuries of youth under 16. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) reported that in 2004, 130 children under the age of 16 died in ATV accidents. The Associated Press reported that more than 100 kids died in 2006, although clearly the majority of the fatalities were in non-work-related accidents.

Meat Packing

In addition to the five worst teen jobs that teens are legally allowed to perform, NCL would like to warn working youth to avoid meat packing jobs. Although workers are supposed to be18 to work in these plants, federal immigration raids in plants in Iowa and South Carolina in 2008 found children as young as 13 and 14 working.

In the spring of 2010, the trial involving child labor allegations at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa revealed harsh conditions endured by working teens—the youngest of which was 13. One teen said he was pushed to process 90 chickens per minute with electric shears. Another Postville teen said that industrial cleaners made her skin peel. Another worker said that when he was 16 he worked 12-hour days, six days a week.

Meat processing work is very dangerous, requiring thousands of cutting motions a day with sharp knives. In a visit to Postville in the summer of 2008, NCL staff interviewed a young worker who cut himself while processing meat when he was only 16 years old. One teen said that industrial cleaners caused her skin to peel.

One of the examples we provided in our forklift section involved a 17-year-old who was killed in a forklift accident in a meatpacking plant.

In addition to being dangerous, the work is messy, bloody, exhausting and too demanding for teens. NCL asks employers and federal and state labor investigators to make sure that no youth under the age of 18 are working in meat processing.


To ensure a safe and rewarding work experience, teens and parents should carefully think about prospective jobs that teens are considering and assess possible workplace dangers that those jobs might possess.

Jobs that involve unsupervised door-to-door sales, long-distance traveling away from parental supervision, and extensive driving should be avoided. Jobs that involve the use of dangerous machinery and the risk of falling significant distances should also be avoided.

Parents should discuss potential job dangers with their children and urge them to consider their own safety. They should empower their children to confront their supervisors when they are asked to do unsafe tasks. They should not be afraid to inquire about safety training.

Employers must comply with child labor laws, provide training to young workers, and be vigilant about providing a safe work place and all required safety equipment.

The U.S. Department of Labor and state agencies must enforce the law and conduct regular reviews to ensure that new workplace hazards are dealt with. Companies that repeatedly violate child labor laws should not have their fines reduced.

Existing inequities in child labor policy such as allowing agricultural workers to perform hazardous jobs at younger ages should also be remedied. And Congress should act to raise the age at which children can work long hours in agriculture to the standard of other industries. Children under 14 who are not working on their parents’ farm should be prohibited from working in the fields and the Secretary of Labor should determine what agricultural tasks can safely be done by 14- and 15-year-olds.

Workplace fatality rates have been dropping over time thanks to the vigilance of working teens, parents, employers, advocacy groups and state and federal authorities, but 34 youth deaths is still too many. We can do better and we should strive to do so.

10 questions for parents to ask their child or their child’s new employer:

1)      Will my son or daughter be asked to drive a vehicle?

2)      Will the job involve their being driven by others?

3)      Is the commute lengthy?

4)      Is there any machinery or tools that my child might be asked to use that may be dangerous?

5)      Will he or she receive safety training?

6)      How detailed is that training?

7)      Is there any risk of falling involved with the job?

8)      Will my child ever be on the job site alone?

9)      Have my child and I visited to review state and federal law to make sure that we know what restrictions apply to their employment?

10)   Is my child’s job impacting their physical or emotional health or their education negatively?

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