Occupational injury rates among young workers are relatively high due to the alarming range of occupational hazards present in their work environments. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that 13% of the labor force (17.5 million workers) are young workers under the age of 24. 359 of this cohort died from work-related injuries in 2009. In this article, we'll go over the information you'll need to stay safe and healthy at work, and inform you about your rights and responsibilities as a young worker. (New to modern safety thinking? Check out Workplace Safety Culture 101.)

Why Do Injuries Occur?

All work environments have some risks. The number and types of risks vary depending on the type of workplace, as well as the nature of work being carried out. Young workers may sustain injuries or illness on the job for various reasons such as

The 7 Most Dangerous Types of Occupations for Young Workers

A hazard is any source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects posed to an individual exposed to certain conditions at work. Common workplace hazards and injuries include: slips, trips, falls; strains and sprains; burns and cuts; eye injuries; hearing loss; chemical exposure; motor vehicle accidents; electrocution; and machinery malfunctions. (For more, see Hazards vs Danger: Do You Know the Difference?)

The following is a list of the seven most dangerous types of occupations for young workers, along with their hazards:

  1. Retail/Grocery Stores/Convenience Stores: Hazards include equipment and machinery, heavy lifting, violent crime, repetitive hand motion, and slippery or obstructed floors and pathways
  2. Food Service/Fast Food: Hazards include sharp objects, hot cooking equipment, slippery floors, electricity, heavy lifting, and violent crime
  3. Janitorial/Cleanup/Maintenance. Hazards include dangerous cleaning chemicals, slippery floors, heavy lifting, infectious diseases, electricity, and vehicles
  4. Office/Clerical: Hazards include repetitive hand motion, back and neck strain, and stress
  5. Outdoor Work: Hazards include exposure to the sun, heat, pesticides and chemicals, machinery and vehicles, electricity, heavy lifting, and noise
  6. Construction: Hazards include falls, machines and tools, hazardous materials, confined space, electricity, struck-by, vehicle back-over, and noise
  7. Agriculture: Hazards include machinery, struck-by, falls, electricity, confined space, hazardous chemicals, organic dust, and heat (Also see Farm Safety: Cultivating Safe Work Practices.)

What Are Your Rights At Work?

As a young worker, you have the right to:

  • Work in a safe and healthy place
  • Receive safety and health training in a language that you understand
  • Ask questions if you do not understand instructions, or if something seems unsafe
  • Earn at least the federal minimum wage
  • Get paid for medical care if you are hurt or sick because of your job
  • Work without being harassed, or treated poorly because of your race, skin color, religion, sex, or disabilities (For more, see Workplace Bullying: An Act of War Threatening the Health and Safety of Your Employees.)
  • Join or start a union
  • File a confidential complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) if you believe there is a serious hazard, or that your employer is not following OSHA standards
  • Refuse work that is dangerous to yourself or to your co-workers

Your Employer’s Responsibilities

Your employer must:

  • Provide a safe and healthy place to work free from recognized hazards
  • Follow all OSHA safety and health standards
  • Choose and provide, at no cost to you, safety gear that can protect you as you work. This includes such things as ear plugs, gloves, safety glasses, or special clothing
  • Use words you can understand when you receive training about workplace hazards
  • Tell you about the hazards associated with your job and how to deal with them. This includes training on how to handle chemicals safely and deal with other workplace hazards, as well as how to respond to emergencies
  • Tell you what you can do if you get hurt on the job

How Can You Stay Safe At Work?

To stay safe at work, you can:

  • Report unsafe conditions to a supervisor
  • Wear any safety gear required to do your job
  • Follow the safety rules
  • Ask questions if you do not understand your job task
  • Ask for help if needed
  • Look out for your co-workers
  • Keep work areas clean and neat
  • Know what to do in the event of an emergency

Starting a New Job?

Every time you start a new job make sure you receive information and training regarding workplace health and safety. You have a right to be safe and healthy at work. Ask your boss questions such as:

  • What job safety training will I get?
  • What are the hazards associated with this job?
  • Will I need to wear safety gear? If yes, how do I use it?
  • If I have health and safety concerns, to whom do I speak with?
  • What should I do in the event of an emergency?
  • What actions should be taken if I get hurt at work?
Remember, inexperience combined with the lack of safety training are the leading causes of occupational injuries and illness among young workers. So, do not be afraid to speak up! Be serious about workplace health and safety. Your life or someone else's life could be at risk.

Have fun, stay safe, and remember that no job is worth your health - or your life.