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.
On a typical day in America, 12 to 13 workers of all ages die in the United States some of those workers are children. Every 11 days a child worker dies.
In 2010, our most recent data, the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, found that 34 children died while working for wages in the United States. Sixteen of the 34 killed were under the age of 16. Eighteen were 16 or 17 years old. An additional 56 workers died who were 18 or 19, bringing the total number of workers under 20 who died to 90. This number would be significantly higher if we included children who work on their parents’ farms.
The number of teen occupational deaths has been slowly falling for years—in part because of health and safety education efforts and in part because fewer teens are working. The fatality rate for workers under 24 fell 14 percent during the 10-year period that ended in 2007. Advocates hope this trend will continue.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that each year about 146,000 youth–defined as ages 15 to 24—sustain work-related injuries. That translates to 400 young workers injured on the job every day. NIOSH notes that young workers are twice as likely as older workers to experience a non-fatal, work-related injury. Workers 18 and 19 experienced the highest injury rate, at 6.3 and 5.9 injuries per 100 full-time employees respectively.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics for all workers suggests that male workers are much more at risk than female. In 2009, 93 percent of the workers in America who died in the job were men. Among all worker fatalities:
• One in seven deaths were from falls (for both men and women);
• Men were 4 times more likely to die from “contact with objects and equipment” then women;
• Women were more than twice as likely to be murdered on the job as men (one in four women who die at work are murdered, while 11 percent of men are);
• One in four women died in traffic accidents; while
• One in five men died in traffic accidents.
The past year has seen a number of gruesome news stories about child and teen work deaths:
• In May 2012, Cleason Nolt, 14, perished in a manure septic pond with his 18-year-old brother and father in Kennedyville, Maryland. [It is not uncommon for there to be multiple deaths when workers are overcome with noxious odors, especially as rescue attempts are made].
• In July 2011, 17-year-old Jordan Ross Monen of Inwood, Iowa was killed in a farm accident. Monen was working on a cattle shed door from inside a payloader bucket when the payloader, which was being operated by another worker, accidentally moved forward and crushed him against the header of the doorway.
• In Tampico, Illinois that same month, two 14-year-old girls, Jade Garza and Hannah Kendall, were electrocuted while working to remove tassels on corn after coming into contact with a field irrigator on a farm.
• Also in July, 17-year-old plumber Benjamin Graham died in Albany, Georgia after being electrocuted while working under a home on a water pipe.
• In August, 16-year-old Damon Springer of Osgood, Ohio was struck by a bobcat front-end loader while working with his father in a family tree service company. Springer’s father did not see the boy and accidentally backed into him, crushing him.
• In September, 17-year-old Stephen N. Tiller was killed when crushed by a garbage truck while working for a family-owned sanitation company. Tiller was riding in the front of a front-loading garbage truck when the truck hit some bumps and sent the boy and another worker flying in front of the truck, which then ran him over.
• In October, 16-year-old Armando Ramirez died in Lamont, California after inhaling hydrogen sulfide in a drainage tunnel at Community Recycling and Resource recycling company.
Safety training and safety awareness could have prevented many of the deaths discussed in this report. The Teens at Work Injury Surveillance System of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health survey teen injured in Massachusetts between 2005 and 2009 found that 51 percent received no safety training. Nearly one in five of the teens worked without a supervisor on site at the time of the injury and nearly six in 10 (58 percent) thought their injury was preventable.
Causes of Injuries and Death
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the causes of workplace injuries typically fall into these seven categories:
1. Unsafe equipment;
2. Stressful Conditions;
3. Inadequate safety training;
4. Inadequate supervision;
5. Dangerous work that is illegal or inappropriate for youth;
6. Trying to hurry; and
7. Alcohol and drug use.
The most common causes of death for the 90 young workers under the age of 19 who died in 2010:
1) transportation accidents (18);
2) struck against object or equipment (13);
3) assaults and violent acts (12);
4) exposure to harmful substances or environments (9);
5) suicide (6); and
6) falls (3).
Nearly half of the workers under 18 who died were younger than 16. If parents think that employers would only permit older teens to do dangerous tasks and that younger teens are safer, they should think again; statistics do not support that assumption.
Many teens lack the experience and sense of caution needed to protect themselves from workplace jobs. In scientific 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 just because they are dangerous or to ask for safety information. Research on the developing brain suggests that there are neurological reasons why teens do not always evaluate dangers properly—that portion of their brain is still developing.
Before discussing specific hazards associated with our five most dangerous jobs, NCL warns of work dangers that affect a wide range of teen workers.