OSHA's Young Worker project and the Department of Labor's YouthRules!
initiative are reaching out to one of the most vulnerable classes of workers.
by Robert Nester
Youth and relative inexperience make America's teenagers
among the nation's most vulnerable classes of workers.
year, a large and vulnerable population of workers enters the
American workforce for the first time. Perhaps one of them served
you lunch last summer on your vacation. Maybe you encountered
one ringing up your purchases on your last shopping spree. You
are most likely to find them working in a retail environment,
with the most common job descriptions being cashier and cook.
They tend to be more visible and active during the summer months,
but you can find them all year-round.
OSHA participated in the National Leadership and Skills Conference
and the concurrent Trade Show for Technical Education last year.
This annual conference is sponsored by SkillsUSA-VICA, a nonprofit
organization dedicated to preparing high school and college students
enrolled in technical, skilled, and service occupational courses
for workplace leadership. The conference and trade show showcase
the talents of students from across the country in a national
competition that pits state winners against each other for national
titles in 73 leadership and hands-on occupational skill contests.
The national winners move on to compete in a world skills competition.
They are America's teenage workers. Whether they are entering
the workforce for the first time or have been working steadily
since they reached the federal legal work age of 14, their youth
and relative inexperience makes teenage employees one of the nation's
most vulnerable classes of workers. According to the National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, teenage workers
have a higher rate of injury than their adult counterparts in
similar jobs. In 1998 alone, 77,000 teens were treated for work-related
injuries and illnesses in hospital emergency rooms.
Although they are young, inexperienced, and often more vulnerable than
their older counterparts, teenage workers will remain a large
and indispensable part of America's workforce. Surveys suggest
that 80 percent of teens will work for pay at some point before
leaving high school. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show 2.8
million 16- and 17-year-olds employed in 2000. Clearly, the health
and safety issues related to younger workers cannot be ignored.
To increase employer awareness of the need to emphasize on-the-job
safety and health for youth employees, the Department of Labor
unveiled the YouthRules! initiative last May. To support and complement
the Departmental initiative, OSHA developed its own initiative,
known as "Young Worker."
Created by OSHA's Directorate of Science, Technology, and
Medicine, the Young Worker project has focused first on outreach.
Its goal was to identify and address the needs of young workers
for both employers and youth employees through stakeholder groups
The 2002 conference was held in Kansas City, Mo., and a combination
of OSHA employees from the Kansas City Area Office and the National
Office to serve as judges for the competition and staff a booth
at the trade show. At the OSHA booth, student workers tried on
personal protective equipment (PPE) and participated in skill-building
games. Some conference participants took advantage of the opportunity
to don full PPE. OSHA judges evaluated contestants in the practical
nursing category as well as a leadership development event. Other
competition categories covered virtually all occupational skills,
from automated manufacturing technology to carpentry to robotics
to total quality management.
OSHA Launches Teen Worker Site
workers and their employers, parents, and educators
now have a new page on the OSHA website dedicated
to keeping America's working teens safe
and healthy on the job. The Teen Workers page
is part of OSHA's new initiative on young
workers, and the agency's premier site
for teen worker safety and health information.
It offers educational resources such as fact
sheets on workplace rights and responsibilities,
hazards on the job, ways to prevent injuries,
work hours, job restrictions, and more.
The new site, at www.osha.gov, links
directly to the Department of Labor's YouthRules! webpage
that focuses on the needs of young workers.
OSHA plans to increase its involvement in issues related to teenage
workers as it develops its Young Worker initiative and continues
to participate in SkillsUSA-VICA. Occupational safety and health
professionals can get involved with SkillsUSA-VICA by volunteering
as judges for state- and national-level competitions or by serving
on technical committees or the state advisory board for the contests.
For details, visit www.skillsusa.org.
Teenage employees are an ever-present factor in America's
workforce, yet employers tend to overlook their unique vulnerabilities.
OSHA's Young Worker initiative aims to change that by creating
an environment in which employers will understand and endorse
the need for early education in health and safety issues for
youngest employees. JSHQ
Nester is a health scientist and occupational health nurse
in the OSHA Directorate of Science, Technology, and Medicine,