NCL’s Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens The National Consumer League’s annual guide to help teens select safe employment this summer

National Consumers League

2011 Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens

An annual NCL guide to help teens and their parents select safe employment this summer


Introduction: This summer’s job outlook

The risks of teen employment

Advice for parents: be their advocates

Advice for Teen Workers

2011 Most Dangerous Jobs: An in-depth look

  • Agriculture: Harvesting Crops and Using Machinery
  • Construction and Height Work
  • Traveling Youth Sales Crews
  • Outside Helper: Landscaping, Groundskeeping, and Lawn Service
  • Driver/Operator: Forklifts, Tractors, and ATV’s

A special note about meat packing

This summer’s job outlook

Across America schools are about to let out and teenagers are scrambling for summer jobs. As has been the case in recent years, the outlook for summer jobs is not good. According to an analysis by Joseph McLaughlin and Andrew Sum of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies (CLMS) published in April 2011, the number of working teens has fallen dramatically since 2000 when 45 of every100 teenagers held summer jobs. By 2010, that number had fallen to just 26 — a drop of 40 percent. The report authors note that the summers of 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 “each set historical post-WWII low summer employment rates for teens by breaking the previous summer’s record low.”

“The federal government failed to provide any funding [for youth work programs] last summer leading to a sharp drop in the employment rate of low income teens,” noted McLaughlin and Sum.

Jobs for teens are an important part of youth development, providing both needed income and teaching valuable work skills. According to research, teen jobs increase future earnings and also decrease the likelihood the working teen will drop out — as long as teens work 20 hours or less each week.

In addition to the poor job outlook, NCL is also concerned that some states are looking at weakening protections for working teens. Missouri in recent months has considered legislation that would rollback many child labor protections and the state passed a budget that eliminated funds for child labor inspectors.

The State of Maine looked at — and thankfully defeated — a measure that would have allowed teens to work unlimited hours each day and would have permitted teens to be paid a “training wage” that was far below the minimum wage during their first six months of employment. The Maine legislature is considering a second measure that would increase the number of hours that teens can work during a school week from the current 20 to 24, despite substantial research that working more than 20 hours is harmful to the students education and increases the likelihood of dropping out. The legislation would also allow teens to work till 11 p.m. — an hour later than the current law allows. Advocates fear that extra hour will lead to sleep deprivation and expose working teens to additional risks from workplace violence and dangers associated with driving.

Without strong child labor laws and vigorous child labor enforcement, America’s youth will needlessly be injured or killed in the workplace. It took a century of diligent work by child welfare advocates and state legislatures to build a body of law that protects children. Now is not the time to turn back the clock to an era when children were asked to fend for themselves in the workplace.

The risks of teen employment

Despite the many benefits provided by youth employment, teen work comes with some risks.

Each day in America, 12 workers of all ages die and some of the victims are youth workers. In 2009, 27 workers under 18 died in the workplace — nearly half of those workers (13) were under 16 years old. In the 18 to 19 age group, another 57 workers died.

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.

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 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that each year about 146,000 youth sustain work-related injuries. That translates to 400 young workers injured on the job every day.

The National Consumers League (NCL) publishes its annual list of the Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens to help youth workers and parents understand that work often involves unexpected health and safety risks and that teenagers, parents, and employers can take steps to minimize those risks.

NCL’s Five Most Dangerous jobs for working youth in 2011 are:

  • Agriculture: Harvesting Crops and Using Machinery
  • Construction and Height Work
  • Traveling Youth Sales Crews
  • Outside Helper: Landscaping, Groundskeeping, and Lawn Service
  • Driver/Operator: Forklifts, Tractors, and ATV’s

The five worst jobs for teens are not ranked in order. They all share higher than normal injury or fatality rates.

The Centers for Disease Control examined occupational fatalities for workers under 24 and found that the greatest number of deaths occurred in the following sectors:

  • Services (32 percent)
  • Construction (28 percent)
  • Wholesale and Retail Trade (10 percent)
  • Agriculture (10 percent)

When the CDC looked at injury rates for under-24 workers, mining (36.5 fatalities per 100,000 full time employees) and agriculture (21.3 per 100,000 full time employees) were the two most dangerous industries. Mining is not on our list because workers must be 18 to work in a mine.

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 January 2011, a seven-year-old boy in Great Bend, Kansas was helping his parents feed cattle when he was accidentally run over by a tractor.
  • On December 29, 2010 in Arcanum, Ohio,  16-year-old John Warner was spreading manure on a frozen corn field when his outer clothing became entangled in the power take-off shaft and in a matter of seconds he was dead.
  • In Fairfax, Virginia, last August, 17-year-old Gregory Malsam was helping a neighbor trim trees when he came in contact with a 19,000-volt power line. He suffered massive internal injuries and died instantly.
  • In July 2010, 12-year-old Luke Hahn was performing landscaping work with his father at a Tree Farm in Bushkill Township, Pennsylvania when the boy backed a dump truck into the valve of an underground propane tank, creating an explosion that killed him and critically injured his father.
  • That same month, two workers  —  Alejandro Pacas, 19, and Wyatt Whitebread, 14  — suffocated in a grain bin in Mount Carroll, Illinois. Their deaths occurred in a matter of seconds as they were engulfed in grain.

In some of these incidents, the deaths could have been prevented. In the last case, for example, the teenagers working in the grain bin received no safety training and were not given safety harnesses. Despite the fact that dozens of workers in grain facilities die each year, the company had not developed an emergency action plan in case of accidents.

Safety training and safety awareness could have prevented many of the deaths discussed in this report.

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. In 2008 data from the federal government, 43 of 97 deaths of workers under 19 came in transportation 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 turned over 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 ask that their driver to focus on their driving and not be distracted by using cell phones, eating, or other disruptions. They should insist that the driver 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, and retail stores

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

Two in three teens work the retail or “leisure/hospitality” sectors. Not surprisingly, a lot of teen occupational injuries occur in those two sectors. Nearly half of teenagers injured on the job work in restaurants or other “leisure/hospitality” companies. Three in 10 work in retail establishments.

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.

In 2009, a woman, barely 18, working in a grocery in Indiana, lost her hand trying to clean a grinder in a grocery store. In April 2010, 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 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.

According to a Reuters Health news report in September 2009, a survey conducted by Dr. Kimberly Rauscher of the Injury Prevention Research Center at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) found  that 10 percent of high school students surveyed had been physically attacked, another 10 percent had experienced sexually harassment, and one in four  said they had been threatened.

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 consider the additional risk to work place violence these young workers will be exposed to.

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 84 young workers under the age of 19 who died in 2009:

1)      exposure to harmful substances or environments;

2)      transportation accidents;

3)      assaults by violent acts;

4)      contact with objects and equipment;

5)       falls;

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

7)       drowning or submersion.

In 13 of the 27 deaths of under 18-year-olds, nearly half of the workers who died  were under 16. If parents think that employers would only permit older teens to do dangerous tasks and that younger teens are safer, the statistics do not support that logic.

Advice for parents: be their advocates

The National Consumers League issues the 2011 Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens to remind teenagers and their parents to help young 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. 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.

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 This U.S. Department of Labor 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? If it is an afterschool job or a weekend job when school is in session, assess 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. Ample research suggests grades suffer and dropout rates increase when teens work more than 20 hours per week.

Advice for teen workers

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.

The CDC has advised NCL that whenever machinery is located in the workplace youth workers need to exercise extra caution.

2011 Most Dangerous Jobs: An in-depth look

In this section, we begin our discussion of each of the Five Most Dangerous Jobs.

Agriculture: Harvesting Crops and Using Machinery

In 2009, over one million youth lived on farms. Another estimated 300,000 youth were hired to work on farms.

Americans are reluctant to admit it but farms are very dangerous. 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. The fatality rate among youth workers in 2009 — 21.3 per 100,000 fulltime employees — means it the most dangerous sector that youth under 18 are allowed to work in.

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.

We noted several tragic deaths to children on farms in the opening pages of this report. Other examples of recent farm tragedies follow:

  • In March 2011, two teens, Nicholas Bledsoe, 19, and Justin Eldridge, 18, were working at their after school job at a farm in Okawville, Illinois when they were electrocuted as a pole they were carrying touched a power line, killing them both.
  • In September 2010 in Minden Iowa, 18-year-old John Martin Dea tried to roll start a tractor he was driving by going down a hill. The tractor began to bounce, went out of control, and rolled over on a terrace. Dea was thrown from the tractor during the incident and killed.
  • In late August 2010 in Etna Green, Indiana, 13-year-old Wyman Miller, a member of an Amish community, was tending to some horse when he was apparently struck or crushed by the horses. He died of blunt force trauma.
  • In July 2010 in Middleville, Michigan, 18-year-old Victor Perez and 17-year-old Francisco M. Martinez died after falling into a silo they were power washing.
  • 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.

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 hold some danger for hired farmworkers, although their rate of injury seems to be lower.

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 and Human Rights Watch, members of the Child Labor Coalition, have found 9- and 10-year-old children working in the fields under harsh conditions.

NCL and the Child Labor Coalition believe the long hours of farm work for children under 14 is dangerous for their health, education, and well-being and should not be allowed. 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.

Each year, about two dozen workers — including several youth–are killed in silos and grain storage facilities. NCL believes these facilities are too dangerous for minors.

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.

U.S. DOL to add to agricultural protections

As noted above, one of the reasons that agriculture is particularly dangerous for youth workers are exemptions that allow 16- and 17-year-olds to perform hazardous work — work like driving a forklift in agricultural facilities that other workers in all other types of facilities must be adults to perform because it is so dangerous.

In the summer of 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor (U.S. DOL) is expected to revise its list of Hazardous Orders for Agriculture to help strengthen protections for youth workers. The Department has worked on these improvements for about a decade and were finally scheduled to be released in December 2010, but have been delayed. The changes will not impact youth working on their parents’ farms, however. Experience suggests that these working youth are particularly vulnerable to injury.

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. 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 — responsible for 14 percent of all occupational deaths to youth under 18.

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.

Other examples of recent construction deaths among teens can be found below:

  • In August 2010 in Edgerton, Ohio, 18-year-old Keith J. LaFountain died of injuries from blunt force trauma when a wall fell ober from high winds as he helped the expansion of the high.
  • That same month in Grand Island, Nebraska, 19-year-old Emilio DeLeon was electrocuted after coming in contact with power lines while working as a roofer. DeLeon was in the bucket of a crane when the lines were touched.
  • In January 2010 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 in November 2008, 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.

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. A hunter found her remains in a forest in Saratoga County, New York six years later.

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 or young adults.

How dangerous are traveling sales crews?

In March 2011, two men in Spartanburg County South Carolina called police and asked them to take them to jail because jail seemed like it would be better alternative than the traveling sales crew they were in. Vincent Mercento,19, and Adam Bassi, 21, told police they needed to quit going door to door asking people to buy magazines. They said they were tired of being wet and selling magazines and tired of the abuse from the company that employed them which seemed “cult-like.” Their lives were so bad they thought jail would be better.

In February 2011, Columbia County Georgia authorities arrested a traveling sales crew of 17 individuals for peddling without a license. Five of the arrestees had criminal records, including one individual on probation for child molestation, another with a conviction for statutory rape, and a third for not registering as a sex offender. Would you want your son or daughter to travel in such company?

All 17 individuals were crowded into one van. With vehicular accidents being one of the most common causes of death for young people, 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, according to Phil Ellenbecker, who runs an industry watchdog group based in Wisconsin that has tracked hundreds of felony crimes and over 80 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:

Murder: 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.

Assaults: In March 2011, an 18-year-old woman selling magazines in the Myrtle Grove, North Carolina area was approached by a man driving in a truck who tried to grab her and assaulted her. Police arrested the man.

Other records of assaults include:

  • 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).

Traveling sales crew members have committee a number of assaults on non-sales crew members and other crimes as well:

  • In May 2011, Ruben Barradas, a door-to-door salesman was sentenced by a judge in Omaha, Nebraska to five to eight years in prison for convincing a woman that she and her 7- and 10-year-old daughters should submit to sexual examinations.
  • A Texas man, Jesse Estep, who worked in amagazine sales crew was convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in Litchfield, Connecticut in May 2010.
  • In April 2010, police in Oak Ridge, Tennessee arrested a sex offender for possession of crack cocaine and other drugs.
  • In February 2011, a Texas man from a traveling crew was arrested in Florida for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl.

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.”

Alcohol and Drugs: This excerpt from “Shauna’s Story” (a memoir of life on the road with a traveling sales crew appears at www., a watchdog site for the industry)

[We were] a whole group of 18 and 19 year olds, and every night we drank more alcohol, and smoked more weed than the wildest college kids. It was the way we relaxed after some of the days we went through. We were out there rain, sleet, or snow all day, just like little soldiers. From the scorching summer days in Alabama to the near freezing temperatures of New York winters. We had only one mission: bring back the money and that we did. And for all that we went through, dealing with [the crew leaders] screaming at us when we didn’t have many sales, to refusing to take us to eat if we didn’t have any sales. To people slamming doors in our faces all day. We felt like we deserved to escape for a little while. And since we weren’t allowed to have our own vehicles on the road, we were stuck at the hotel. So every night after work, we would walk to the nearest store, find the closest dope man, and escape for a couple hours.

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. They often wait hours in strange neighborhoods for their crew leaders or drivers to take them back to the hotels they are staying in.

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 — many of whom have criminal records.

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. It’s difficult to estimate the number of minors involved in this industry. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most recruits are over 18 because of the legal risks of transporting minors. However, NCL worries that there are still occasional minors lured into the business. In April 2011 in Manhattan, Kansas a 17-year-old was one of five magazine crew members arrested for peddling without a license. In August 2010, police arrested 8 individuals for illegal sales in Holden, Massachusetts. Two of the individuals were 17.

In Gainesville, Florida in November 2009, police responded to a disturbance involving a 17-year-old girl who had been fired from a crew for low sales. The girl said she had nowhere to go and was not allowed to collect her belongings until police helped her. Police ran background checks on the crew of 50 sales people she was traveling with and found many with extensive criminal histories.

While this report focuses on protecting teenagers, traveling sales crews present significant dangers for young adults — the mostly 18- to 24-year-olds who make up most crews–as well. A recent report in Mankato concerned an 18-year-old man with developmental delays who was lured into following a sales crew. His panicked family was able to retrieve him about a week later. Another 18-year-old who suffered from schizophrenia and manic depression was lured from his home in Gaston County North Carolina in April 2011.

The number of crimes in which 18 to 21-year-olds in traveling sales crews are victims or perpetrators is staggering and can be tracked at this Web site: percent20news.html

Shauna, the young woman who wrote about her experiences in a crew, reflected:

It’s crazy the things people will put up with to feel like they belong, to feel loved, and to be accepted….Now that I have been off the road …it’s given me the opportunity to sit back and reflect on just how blessed I was to be involved in something so dangerous for so long, and make it out safely. Sometimes I still have nightmares of some of the things that I went through, and some of the things I witnessed.

What can be done to help clean up this industry?

States and localities should consider model laws like the one passed in Wisconsin in 2009. It requires sales workers who travel in pairs of two or more to be employees rather than independent contractors and subjects them to labor laws. Companies that employ crews would have to register with the state and their operators would have to pass criminal background checks. The law requires companies to tell recruits in writing where they will work and how much they wil be paid, carry insurance, and post a $10,000 bond with the state.

Local police can ensure that crews in their areas are properly licensed and can talk to young salespeople to ensure that they are not being physically abused or held against their will.

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 September 2010 in Rosenberg, Texas, 19-year-old Walter Barcenas was mowing grass near some railroad tracks when he was struck and killed by a train.
  • 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.

Under federal laws, 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.

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 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. (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.

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.

A special note about meat packing

In addition to the five most dangerous jobs that teens are legally allowed to perform, NCL warns working youth to avoid meat packing 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.


While work plays an important role in the development of teenagers, teens and parents should carefully think about prospective jobs that teens are considering and assess possible workplace dangers that those jobs might possess.

Think twice before taking jobs that involve:

  • door-to-door sales, especially out of the youth’s neighborhood;
  • long-distance traveling away from parental supervision;
  • extensive driving or being driven;
  • driving forklifts, tractors, and other potentially dangerous vehicles;
  • the use of dangerous machinery;
  • the use of chemicals;
  • working in grain storage facilities; and
  • work on ladders or work that involves heights where there is a risk of falling.

What can parents do?

  • Parents should discuss potential job dangers with their children;
  • Urge teen workers them to think about and value their own safety;
  • empower their children to confront their supervisors with questions and concerns about safety;
  • ask for safety training.

Above all, working teens must be empowered to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t feel safe doing that.”

Ten 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 my son’s or daughter’s physical or emotional health or their education negatively?

What can employers do?

Employers must comply with child labor laws, provide training to young workers, follow all mandates safety regulations, and be vigilant about providing a safe work place and all required safety equipment. They need to encourage open dialogue about safety with young workers who might be too shy to raise concerns.

What can the federal and state governments do?

The U.S. Department of Labor and state agencies must enforce the laws and conduct regular reviews to ensure that new workplace hazards are dealt with. Hazardous Orders updates need to be conducted in a timely fashion. Companies that repeatedly violate child labor laws should not have their fines reduced.

States should not rollback child labor protections. Instead of weakening protections, as Missouri and Maine are considering, states should pass increased protections like Wisconsin’s model law regulating the traveling sales crews.

What can Congress do?

Existing inequities in child labor policy such as allowing agricultural workers to perform hazardous jobs at younger ages should also be remedied. Congress should act to raise the age at which children can work for wages 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.

These protections are embodied in the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act), legislation that will be introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif) in the summer of 2011. This legislation has been endorsed by over 100 national and regional organizations, including 20 farmworker organizations. In the last Congress, more than 100 members of the House co-sponsored CARE, but Congressional leaders refused to move the bill and protect America’s most vulnerable workers.

Congress should also pass tougher federal laws to regulate traveling sales crews.

One hundred years ago, 100 workers died each day in America. Today, that number — with a U.S. population three and a half times greater — is 12. Safety training, education, and regulation works.

Teen workplace fatality rates have been dropping over time thanks to the vigilance of working teens, parents, employers, advocacy groups and state and federal authorities. Fifteen years ago, twice as many teen workers died each year than today, but 27 deaths of young workers is still too many.

We can do better and we should strive to do so.

NCL’s Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens is updated annually in May using data from NIOSH, the CDC, and other sources. The report author is Reid Maki, NCL’s Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards and the Coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition.