Another dangerous teen job: 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.

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