Despite federal regulations intended to protect them, many teenagers in the U.S. use dangerous equipment or work long hours during the school week, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study.
The national study was based on telephone surveys of 928 teenaged workers, 14 to 18 years old. The results show 52 percent of males and 43 percent of females use dangerous equipment such a box crushers and slicers, or serve and sell alcohol where it is consumed, despite federal child labor laws prohibiting these practices.
The results were published in the March 1, 2007 editor of the journal Pediatrics.
Additionally, 84 percent of females and 61 percent of males handle cash in their jobs, exposing them to risks associated with robberies. Homicides during robberies were the cause of up to one half of all youth fatalities in the retail trade.
"Many teenagers start working at an early age, and most find jobs in retail or service industries. Our aim is to examine the conditions under which they are working, and suggest ways to protect them at work," said lead study author Carol Runyan, Ph.D., director of UNC's Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC) and professor of health behavior and health education in the UNC School of Public Health.
Many teens younger than 16 years old reported working after 7 p.m. on school nights, which is illegal, Runyan said, and suggests the need for better enforcement of child labor laws. Some teens said they worked after 11 p.m. on school nights, potentially interfering with school or sleep.
"Though there are benefits to work, not enough attention has been paid to safety," Runyan said. "Federal and state child labor laws are designed to restrict the working environments, tasks and hours that teens work. However, the data we collected suggest there are gaps in how well businesses are complying."
About one third of the teens surveyed said they had not received any safety training, Runyan said. And others who were trained did not receive instruction in some critical areas, such as what to do in case of robbery or how to deal with arguments or fights among coworkers.
"Greater supervision and training in difficult situations that arise in retail and service sector jobs would really benefit these teens," Runyan said. "We need to remember that workers need to be trained to deal with such situations. The fact that so many teens in our survey reported working one or more days a week without any adult supervision suggests the potential for serious lapses in safety.
"Parents need to be aware of the work their children are doing and get involved in helping to ensure that businesses provide a safe work environment," Runyan said. She also called on physicians working with adolescents to be more aware and ask teens about work as part of standard medical practice.
The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Collaborators on the study include: Michael Schulman, Ph.D., professor of sociology and anthropology, North Carolina State University; Janet Dal Santo, Dr.P.H., IPRC senior research program coordinator; Michael Bowling, Ph.D., IPRC statistician and research associate professor, UNC department of health behavior and health education; Robert Agans, Ph.D., research associate, UNC department of biostatistics; and Myduc Ta, doctoral candidate, UNC department of epidemiology.
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