Opinion: Work is more dangerous for young people. Here’s what employers can

Think about your first job. Maybe it was delivering pizza, bagging groceries, busing tables or doing landscaping work. Did you get enough training to avoid potential injuries? Chances are, you didn’t, and your boss or supervisor just told you to get to work.

Employing young people helps them in many ways. They can learn a trade, develop job skills, become more responsible and earn money. But there’s danger, too: Americans between 15 and 24 years old are up to 2.3 times more likely to get injured on the job than workers who are 25 and over. In 2021, 398 workers under 25 died after getting injured on the job.

In my research about the unique occupational safety hazards young workers face, I’ve identified three common causes of this susceptibility to injury: their lack of experience, developing bodies and brains, and reluctance to speak up.

Physical and cognitive limitations

The 19 million young people employed today make up around 13% of the U.S. workforce. Work is more dangerous for young people because they’ve simply had less time to become aware of many common workplace hazards than their older co-workers.

Yet this problem isn’t typically addressed during onboarding: Even those who have been trained to do a specific job may not be taught ways to avoid common injuries. These include tendinitis from scooping ice cream for hours on end, burns from operating a deep fryer, lacerations from sharp objects, and slips, trips and falls.

It’s also important to remember that bodies and brains continue to develop well into adulthood, up to age 25. This can make some tasks riskier before that point for the 55% of individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 who work.

For example, workers in their teens and early 20s may be smaller and weaker than older workers. Furthermore, some safety equipment, such as gloves and masks, may not properly fit.

In addition to physical changes that occur during adolescence, the brain is also developing and restructuring into early adulthood. The frontal cortex, which is used for decision-making and helps you to think before you act, continues to develop into adulthood and can lead to risky behaviors.

Young people are inclined to seek approval and respect, which influences their decision-making. They also engage in risky behaviors both on and off the job that may affect their performance at work.

Finally, many young workers are reluctant to speak up if they have concerns, or to ask questions if they don’t know what to do, because they don’t want to lose respect from their boss or supervisor. To avoid appearing unqualified, they may not want to admit that they need help.

Weaker protections in some states

Despite these inherent risks, Arkansas, Iowa and other states have recently weakened labor laws, loosening restrictions about the kinds of work teens can do and increasing the number of hours they can work.

This is happening at a time when the number of child labor violations are…

Read More: Opinion: Work is more dangerous for young people. Here’s what employers can

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