For many teens, summer is the perfect time to earn some money. Youth workers can provide valuable contributions, but their lack of experience can also make them vulnerable to injuries. Make sure your summer hiring and training practices are keeping teens safe on the job.

Youth Workers and Injury Rates

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), July is usually the summertime peak in youth employment, and in July 2021, more than 20.3 million people between the ages of 16 and 24 were employed. Many of these workers were teens taking on a summer job during their school break.

Injury rates are high among this group. In 2020, BLS data shows that there were 32,790 nonfatal injuries among private industry workers between the ages of 16 and 19. The injuries caused an average of seven days of missed work.

Restrictions for Youth Workers

Federal rules restrict the types of jobs, hours and tasks of youth workers. According to the DOL:

  • Children under the age of 14 are only allowed to work in certain positions. They are allowed to work in a business owned entirely by their parents, as long as the job is not in a hazardous occupation. They are also allowed to take a few other jobs, such as delivering newspapers and babysitting.
  • Children between the ages of 14 and 15 can only work outside of school hours, and there are additional and very specific restrictions on the number of hours they are allowed to work. Furthermore, hazardous jobs and tasks are not allowed. These restrictions include power-driven machinery as well as ladders and scaffolds.
  • Children between the ages or 16 and 17 can be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation than has not been declared hazardous. The restrictions include power-driven bakery machines, meat-processing machines and hoisting apparatus.

Federal laws aren’t the only rules that employers need to follow. State laws may place additional restrictions on youth workers.

Child Labor Law Violations and Injuries

Employers sometimes run afoul of child labor laws when they employ minors and then have them operate hazardous machinery. Issues often arise when young workers are tasked with cleaning machines that are supposed to be off but turn on inadvertently. Minors are not allowed to use or clean certain hazardous machines.

In one example, the DOL says that a restaurant violated child labor regulations by allowing a 17-year-old worker to clean a power-driven dough mixer. The restaurant also failed to record the birth date of a minor worker. The operator paid $2,285 in penalties.

Penalties may be higher when injuries are involved. In another example, the DOL says a 16-year-old worker was cleaning a meat grinder during his shift at a supermarket in Georgia, in violation of child labor laws. His hand got stuck, and while trying to free it, the power came on. His finger was cut and required stitches, and the supermarket paid a $7,274 fine for violating child labor laws. Thankfully, the injury was not very serious.

In some cases, the injuries and fines are much more severe. The DOL says that the owners of a supermarket violated child labor laws by letting two 16-year-olds clean a meat grinder. The meat grinder started when one of the teen boys had his arm inside the grinder, and his arm was amputated as a result. The owners were fined $65,289.

Keeping Your Teen Workers Safe

Teen workers play an important role in the workforce. Avoid injuries, fines and workers’ compensation claims by implementing policies and procedures designed to keep your young workers safe.

  • Don’t assume knowledge. Provide training and supervision on all safety issues, such as personal protective equipment and proper lifting techniques. The CDC also recommends using a mentor or buddy system.
  • Follow both federal and state child labor laws. These laws may restrict both the hours that minors are allowed to work and the tasks that minors are allowed to perform.
  • Do not let minors operate or clean dangerous machinery, including power-driven meat slicers, meat grinders and dough mixers. Make sure that the both the teen workers and their supervisors know that minors are not allowed to operate or clean these machines.
  • Keep hazardous equipment safe with lockout and tagout procedures.
  • Make sure teens know what to do in the case of a fire, violent attack or other emergency.

Download our Teen Worker Safety Tips Sheet for more information about keeping teens safe on the job.