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Making Sure Your Teen's Job Is Safe

Teen Safety at Work

Your 13-year-old comes to you and asks permission to start babysitting so she can earn enough money for that new video game. Or maybe your 16-year-old wants to work at the local fast-food restaurant so he can save money for a car.

If you're like many parents, you probably think that a part-time job, whether after school, on weekends, or during the summer, is a good idea. After all, working teaches teens a sense of responsibility, helps them pay for their own expenses, and teaches them that money is something that's earned. So you might be inclined to say, "Sure, take the job."

But sometimes parents may not give much thought to the risks their teens can face while working. Here's how you and your teen can choose a safe part-time job that minimizes those risks.

Common Jobs for Teens

Lots of teens work, especially 15- to 17-year-olds. Many are employed in retail operations, including fast-food restaurants, grocery stores, and other shops. Service industries, including nursing homes, swimming pools, amusement parks, and moving companies, account for another large portion of teen labor. And a smaller number work in the agricultural industry. Other teens opt for entrepreneurial activities, such as babysitting, delivering newspapers, and dog walking.

Risks to Teens

Of course, almost all jobs have hidden safety hazards: falling off a ladder while reaching for a box on a high shelf, slipping on a newly mopped floor, or being bitten by an unruly pet are just a few risks your teen could encounter on the job or at the workplace.

Other job injuries have more recently become common, such as carpal tunnel syndrome (an overuse injury in the wrists) and other repetitive stress injuries (RSIs). They're mostly associated with computer work, but RSIs also can develop from scanning items as a supermarket checker.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in 2006:

And since only about one-third of work-related injuries are seen in emergency departments, that means that an estimated 157,000 teens sustain work-related injuries and illnesses each year.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the farming, forestry, and fishing industries are the most dangerous and account for the most fatal occupational injuries; the retail industry is the second most-hazardous; followed by the construction industry.

Transportation injuries on farms, highways, and industrial premises account for almost half of fatal occupational injuries among teens. Wholesale and retail trade and service industries account for the majority of on-the-job nonfatal injuries.

Depending on the industry they're working in, teens can be at risk for serious dangers, such as injuries from heavy machinery or illness from bacteria or toxic chemicals. Teen workers are generally believed to be at increased risk of occupational injury because of inexperience and limited training.

Starting the Job Hunt

If you and your teen agree about your teen looking for a job, plan to spend some time searching for one that's safe and enjoyable.

Talk about what your teen wants to do. If possible, your teen should be interested in the job, not just taking it for money. Someone interested in pursuing medicine in college, for example, might seek a job as a nursing home worker or at a hospital.

Try contacting the department of labor in your state. Among the things you can ask them: the number of hours teens can work, the hours of the day when they can work, and the types of jobs they shouldn't do. For example, in some states teens under age 16 aren't allowed to operate deli slicers or fryers in restaurants. And some teens under age 18 may not be allowed to work past 10 p.m. on school nights.

You also can get helpful information from the National Consumers League (NCL), a national organization that (among other things) works to monitor and fight child labor abuses.

Starting a Business

How do you monitor the safety of a teen who wants to start a business (or work independently, as in babysitting)? Check with the labor department anyway; this may help you and your teen establish some guidelines, like hours to work and what kind of businesses are OK.

For example, let's say your 16-year-old wants to run a window-washing business this summer, but the labor department in your state prohibits minors from taking jobs that involve climbing ladders. Even if you know your teen is mature and responsible, the laws are there to protect teens from getting hurt.

Before your teen starts a business, steer your child to the library or Internet for business and safety advice for young entrepreneurs. Your local hospital, police or fire department, Red Cross chapter, or YMCA/YWCA may have helpful information about first aid, CPR, and safety.

Before Your Teen Is Hired

To find out if a job is safe, talk to your teen and ask questions such as:

Checking Out a Job Site

You might not have concerns if your teen is working around the neighborhood with people you know. But you might have questions if your child's takes a job where you don't know the people or the environment.

When possible, get references for jobs from the labor department and the Better Business Bureau. Make an appointment to meet with your teen's potential employer and take a quick tour of the work environment.

Ask questions, including:

Keep Talking, Even After Payday

Don't stop talking after your teen has been hired. Discuss work regularly and get specifics on the workday (rather than just "it's fine"). For example, you can ask:

Talking to teens about their rights and experiences at work is a great way to keep communication flowing. Explain that there are laws to protect teens against sexual harassment and discrimination, and encourage your child to come to you with all work-related concerns, especially if anything "doesn't feel right."

Also make sure your son or daughter understands that with rights come responsibilities. Some employers get away with paying teens less than minimum wage by paying them "off the books" and telling them they won't have to pay taxes. But remind your teen that paying taxes is an important responsibility and a legal requirement. Also, paying Social Security tax is how workers earn the Social Security benefits they'll receive later.

And be aware of your teen's physical health and safety: Is he or she nodding off a lot? Are grades slipping? Does he or she seem stressed out? You, your teen, and perhaps your child's doctor can confer about maintaining a healthy balance between school, work, and other responsibilities.

By investing some time in research beforehand, your teen can have a fun, worthwhile, and safe job experience.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: September 2014

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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