By LEE BOWMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
August 28, 2006
The study, published in the September-October issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior, was based on the results of a questionnaire completed by more than 6,800 Wisconsin high-school students in 2003.
Slightly more than half the students reported working any kind of job, with 514 getting injured at work, including 150 injured severely enough that their activities at home, work or school were affected for more than three days. Ninety-seven filed for worker's compensation.
"The findings clearly indicate that work-related injuries among youth are a significant health problem," said Kristina Zierold, an assistant professor of family medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "Developing programs and strategies to reduce injury must be made a priority."
Zierold conducted the survey with Dr. Henry Anderson, chief medical officer for the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, while she was working as an epidemiologist for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The research was funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The researchers noted that, nationwide each year, "approximately 70 children die from injuries inflicted at work; hundreds are hospitalized and tens of thousands require treatment in hospital emergency rooms. The National Pediatric Trauma Registry and the National Center for Health Statistics report that occupational injuries are the fourth-leading cause of death among young ages 10-19."
The survey showed that the jobs most likely to lead to teen injury were in lumber mills (where 51 percent who worked there reported an on-the-job-injury); lumberyards (40 percent); manufacturing (37 percent); gas stations (36 percent); someone else's farm (36 percent) and construction (30 percent).
Zierold noted that, legally, some of those jobs - or certain tasks within those jobs - should have been off-limits to teens.
Most teens in the survey worked in more traditional settings - restaurants, baby-sitting, lawn care and retail and grocery stores.
The survey found the teens working from just five hours a week to more than 40 hours a week. About 16 percent of those who worked reported putting in more than 23 hours a week, and 159, or 4 percent, said they clocked out after 11 on school nights.
"We surmise that working later hours may involve circumstances that place teens at greater risk for occupational injury," Zierold said. Late at night, after managers have gone home, "teens may be asked to perform more prohibited or hazardous tasks than when supervisors are present."
Training for most jobs that teens are hired to do is perfunctory, with little emphasis on safety. "Training usually consists of another worker explaining how to do the work and how to run the equipment, without emphasis on safety issues," Zierold said.
"Because so many high-school students are working during the school year, we advocate introducing a safety-training course within the school health curriculum ... appropriate to students' age and developmental levels.
"Training would emphasize how to identify work-related hazards, how to protect themselves from hazards and how to address supervisors with safety concerns. With safety training, teens could feel empowered at the workplace by knowing their rights and how to protect themselves," she added.
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