Working as a teen has benefits, but also risks. Learn how you can help prevent youth from being injured or made sick at work.
Youth labor force participation in the U.S. has been trending downward for decades, and decreased further during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the April 2020 dip, there has been an uptick in the number of working teens. For many young people, especially during the summer months, having a job remains an important part of the teenage experience and the transition to adulthood. Working helps teens gain independence, experience, and valuable life skills.
However, work can also have serious risks. About once every 5 minutes a teen in the U.S., aged 15–19, is injured at work seriously enough to require an emergency room visit. Young people are up to two times more likely than workers over age 24 to be injured on the job. Work-related injuries early in life can have lifelong and devastating consequences.
Keeping teens safe on the job takes teamwork among employers, parents, teachers, and young workers themselves. Employers have the main responsibility to provide workers with a safe and healthy workplace, but everyone has a role to play in keeping teen workers safe.
Know child labor laws and requirements that protect working teens
State and federal child labor laws protect working teens under the age of 18 from working in certain dangerous non-farm jobs. Federal child labor regulations also restrict the hours teens under age 16 may work. Many states have additional restrictions. (There are different federal child labor regulations for jobs in agriculture.) The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division reported an approximately three-fold increase in violations of child labor laws from 2015 to 2022.
Employers have a responsibility to know and follow the child labor laws in their state. To assist businesses that employ young people, DOL recently published “Seven Child Labor Best Practices for Employers.” These include training supervisors and managers on child labor requirements and placing signage on equipment that younger workers are prohibited from using.
Parents, teachers, and teens should be informed about child labor requirements to keep young workers safe on the job. Schools are an ideal place to teach teens the basics about workplace safety and health. Students can learn foundational workplace knowledge and skills that they will be able to use throughout their careers. These knowledge and skills provide a baseline upon which future job-specific safety and health training can be built. For some, it may be the only workplace safety and health instruction they receive before entering the labor force.