In addition to NCL’s Five Most Dangerous Jobs, we’d like to highlight some additional jobs that teen workers should regard with caution.
Driver/operator, forklifts, tractors, and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs)
Forklifts, tractors, and all-terrain vehicles (ATV) pose dangers for many young workers. NCL has seen a large number of children injured in ATV accidents in the last several months (whether these are recreational accidents or work-related is often hard to determine from news reports.)
Several youth tractor accidents have been detailed in our section on agricultural fatalities and injuries. Some examples of 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 in December 2007.
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 youth may operate the forklift at age 16. Advocates can think of no rationale for this different safety standard and 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 United States. Increasingly, tractors are being used in non-agricultural industries, like construction, manufacturing, and landscaping. Tractor overturns are the most common cause of tractor fatalities, and was the primary cause among youth workers.
ATVs resulted in 44,700 serious injuries of youth under 16. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) 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.
According to research out of the University of Sydney, in Australia, where ATV deaths are also relatively common, nearly half of ATV deaths are from rollovers. And rollover deaths were much more common in farm accidents than in non-farm accidents. The study recommends that protective devices be added to ATVs and that alternative, safer vehicles be used in many situations.
In a June 3, 2012 report about an Oklahoman teen who suffered a traumatic brain injury and a broken arm in a recreational ATV accident, his mother said, “Kids get on [ATVs] and think they can drive really fast and nothing is going to happen to them, but it does.” In 2011, the Trauma One Center at Oklahoma University’s Medical Center treated 117 victims of ATV accidents— over half (51 percent) were under 18.
ATVsafety.gov notes that it is very important that a child under 16 never be allowed to operate an adult-sized ATV.
Restaurants, grocery stores, and retail stores
In terms of raw numbers, retail establishments, restaurants, and grocery stores are three of the largest employers of teen workers.
According to 2009 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 44 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds work in the “leisure/hospitality” sector, mostly in restaurants and other food service. Nearly one in four (24 percent) work in retail jobs. Not surprisingly, a lot of teen occupational injuries occur in those two sectors. Nationally, nearly half of teenagers injured on the job work in restaurants or other “leisure/hospitality” companies. Three in 10 work in retail establishments.
The Massachusetts teen worker survey mentioned previously found similar results: among the accommodation and food service sector and the retail trade sector accounted for 58 percent of the workers’ compensation lost wages claims because of injuries.
In a 2007 article in Pediatrics by Carol Runyan, et al., based on a phone survey of 14- to 18-year-olds employed in the retail and service sectors found that “despite federal regulations prohibiting teens under 18 from using certain types of dangerous equipment (e.g., slicers, dough mixers, box crushers, paper balers) or serving or selling alcohol in places where it is consumed, 52 percent of males and 43 percent of females reported having performed [more than one] prohibited task.”
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 perform 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.
In 2009, a woman who was barely 18, working in a grocery in Indiana, lost her hand trying to clean a grinder in a grocery store.
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 workplaces hold some danger. NCL’s goal is not to instill teen workers with fear but to get them and employers to minimize the risks involved with some jobs by recognizing known hazards.
In addition to the five most dangerous jobs that teens are legally allowed to perform, NCL warns working youth to avoid meatpacking jobs. Although workers are supposed to be 18 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.
Lumber mills and lumber yards
A study in the American Journal of Health and Behavior noted that that 51 percent of surveyed teens who had worked in lumber mills had been injured. Four in 10 teens who worked in lumber yards had also been injured. These workplaces did not make our top five list because it is believed that small numbers of teens are employed lumber yards and lumber mills.
Deaths from driving
The most common way for a teen worker to die is in a traffic accident. In 2010, 32,708 Americans—about 90 a day—died in car accidents. Fifteen of the 34 youth workers under 18 who died in 2010—44 percent—perished in motor vehicle accidents.
In July 2010 in Okmulgee Country, Oklahoma, 16-year-old Troy Don Kimbley was killed when the tow truck he was driving overturned on a curve and flipped two and a half times before coming to rest on its top.
NCL encourages 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 always wear their seat belt.
They should also demand that their driver focus on their driving and not be distracted by using cell phones, eating, or other disruptions. They should insist that the driver obey traffic laws and 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 typical urban counties.
According to findings from the 2013 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, violence accounted for one out of every six fatal work injuries in 2013. Between 1992 and 2012, over 700 homicides a year occurred in workplaces.
Restaurants and retail establishments hold elevated risks of workplace violence. According to 2010 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, three of the 34 youth workers who died that year succumbed to assaults or violent acts. If you include 18- and 19-year-olds, 15 of the 90 workers between the ages of 16 and 19 who died at work in 2010 perished from violent acts.
- In March 2016, a man eating in a Church’s Chicken restaurant in Philadelphia became enraged, left, and returned a short time later with a gun and shot a 19-year-old worker three times.
- 19-year-old Peter Meilke was gunned down while working in a pizza place in Bellaire, Texas in February 2016. Police said that Meilke appeared to comply with the robbers demands but they shot him anyway.
- In April 2012, a 16-year-old, Mokbel Mohamed “Sam” Almujanhi, in Farmville, North Carolina was shot to death during the robbery of a convenience store. Almujanhi worked for his father who owned the store, where two other men were also murdered by the robbers.
- In January 2010, 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.
- In June 2011, 17-year-old pharmacy clerk Jennifer Meija was shot and killed alongside three other employees inside the Medford, New York pharmacy where she worked. Meija was just days from her high school graduation. Police reports said that the suspect in the shooting was trying to steal prescription drugs.
A 2009 survey conducted by Dr. Kimberly Rauscher of the Injury Prevention Research Center at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)—a member of the Child Labor Coalition—found that 10 percent of high school students surveyed had been physically attacked, another 10 percent had experienced sexual harassment, and one in four said they had been threatened while at work.
Given the dangers associated with working at night, NCL believes that 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.
States that are considering weakening their child labor laws by allowing youth to work past 10 p.m. should be dissuaded by the additional risk of workplace violence these young workers will be exposed to.