Most of the 80 percent of teens who work enjoy a positive and enriching experience. However, teenagers in the workplace may be at risk for injuries on the job due to inadequate safety training, unsafe equipment, and stressful environments. Real-life horror stories, though rare, tell of teens being crushed by forklifts or shot during robberies. Youth may also face discrimination or sexual harassment by coworkers.
To address the safety needs of teen workers, the Center for the Study and Prevention of Injury, Violence, and Suicide in EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs (HHD) is collaborating with U.C. Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) to form The National Young Worker Safety Resource Center (YWSRC). The Center is funded by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and provides training for the staff of school and community-based job readiness and placement programs, preparing them to teach teens about occupational safety and health. The center also provides seminars, technical assistance, and resources to employers and education and employment-related organizations serving youth to improve the safety of young workers.
Chris Miara, Project Director of YWSRC, stresses the importance of a comprehensive approach to young worker safety: “Protecting the health and safety of teen workers requires strong laws that are enforced, training and education, and data on the scope of the problem. No single agency has the responsibility for implementing all these strategies. That’s why we have encouraged the development of state-level partnerships among a variety of key players.”
Forming and educating State teams to work on projects that reduce risk of injury to teen workers is proving to be a promising approach to promoting healthy workplaces for youth. These state teams are coalitions of agencies and organizations whose goal is to protect the safety and health of young people in the workplace.
To mobilize State teams, EDC recently hosted “The Young Worker Safety Resource Center: National Workshop”. Teams comprising representatives from state departments of education, labor, and health from 12 states, as well as employers, occupational safety professionals, and federal agency personnel convened to discuss ways they are integrating the YWSRC’s curriculum, Youth @ Work: Talking Safety, into schools, job training programs, and health education settings.
The participants spent the day sharing their experiences using and institutionalizing Youth @ Work: Talking Safety, a young worker safety curriculum developed by YWSRC. Participants also discussed other activities and resources they use to promote workplace safety for teens, such as educational materials for teens and parents, regulations requiring safety training for teachers who place youth in jobs, and workshops for employers. Lastly, participants described the challenges they encountered while carrying out these activities and shared strategies to address these difficulties.
At the workshop, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) presented its independent, national evaluation of the Youth @ Work curriculum, which was piloted in ten states. The evaluation concluded that, while students can typically identify job hazards before training, the curriculum adds value by imparting new knowledge about: (1) young worker rights and responsibilities; (2) how to control or eliminate hazards; and (3) what to do in workplace emergencies.
According to Miara, “We have used the Youth @ Work curriculum with thousands of students around the country. While teachers and students are very positive about the training and our pre- and post-tests always show gains in knowledge, it was very gratifying, first of all, to know that NIOSH was interested in evaluating the curriculum, and second, that the evaluators found it to be effective in conveying the key points young people need to learn.”
Workshop participants agreed that the lessons learned will continue to inform their work in protecting youth workers. As a result of the workshop, one participant noted: “I plan to build additional partnerships with my state’s youth apprenticeship program, Department of Public Instruction, and other businesses.”
Originally published on April 30, 2006