Summer officially begins tomorrow, and with it, millions of young people will enter the workforce — some of them for the first time. Unfortunately, these workers are often among the most vulnerable members of our nation’s workforce. Workers under the age of 25 are twice as likely to be injured on the job as older workers and are often unaware of their workplace rights. In fact, a U.S. teen worker is injured on the job every nine minutes. In 2011, more than 331 young workers were killed and 106,170 injured on the job.
Many young workers take summer jobs that involve spending hours in the sun, such as working as landscapers, lifeguards, and amusement park attendants. Heat illness is a serious condition and every year, thousands of workers become sick from exposure to heat — some even die.
So, as temperatures rise across the nation it’s important for all employers and their workers to know that ‘water, rest and shade’ are three words that can make the difference between life and death. Smartphone users should check out the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Heat Safety Tool mobile app to calculate the heat index for their locations and get reminders about how to prevent heat illness on the job. Available in English or Spanish on the iPhone as well as BlackBerry or Android devices, the app is one of many resources OSHA is offering as part of its Heat Illness Prevention Campaign.
In addition to heat exposure, hazards facing landscaping workers include exposure to pesticides and injuries from mowers or other equipment. A brochure for young workers on landscaping (PDF) is available through OSHA’s interagency work group, the Federal Network for Young Worker Safety and Health. A Spanish-language version of the brochure, Agorra la Onda, is also available.
Another common hazard that young workers can face is a fall from a ladder, roof or scaffold. Falls are the leading cause of death in construction, which is why OSHA is getting the word out, in English and Spanish, about how employers and supervisors should “Plan, Provide, Train” to prevent fatal falls and save lives. To learn more, visit www.osha.gov/stopfalls.
For those young workers who may be doing summer work in the grain industry, OSHA also has information on safe grain handling practices, including a pocket-sized card on the dangers of grain engulfment (PDF).
Whether you are a young worker, employer, parent or educator, OSHA’s young workers page offers tailored information and resources on workers’ rights and summer job safety. The page also has information on preventing hazards in indoor jobs such as retail sales, food service, and janitorial or maintenance work.
By educating workers about their rights and employers about their responsibilities, OSHA’s goal is to make sure that each young person’s first job is just the beginning of a long, safe and healthy working career.
You can help, too, by spreading the word to friends, family and students so that that every young worker can say with confidence “I Have Rights.”
Rebecca Bilbro is a Presidential Management Fellow working in the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.