Death rates for teen workers slightly higher

Sixteen- and 17-year-old workers die on the job at rates comparable to or slightly higher than rates for adult workers, according to results of a new study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The study examined job-related fatality data for the years 1990 to 1992. During that time, 1.01 of every 100,000 workers age 16 and 17 died from work-related motor vehicle injuries, compared with 0.82 deaths per every 100,000 workers ages 35 to 44. Work-related homicides claimed 0.76 per every 100,000 workers aged 16 and 17, compared with 0.65 of every 100,000 workers ages 35 to 44. Rates in the two age categories for machinery-related workplace deaths were 0.57 and 0.42, respectively.

The work-related death rate from all causes in 1990 to 1992 was lower for 16- and 17-year-olds than for young and middle-aged adult workers. However, after a dramatic decline in work-related death rates for 16- and 17-year-olds from 1980 to 1983, further declines from 1983 to 1992 had become less precipitous, the analysis found.

It is possible that the study underestimates the rate of deaths for 16- and 17-year-old workers because of the way the data were collected. The study was based on data collected from death certificates under NIOSH's National Traumatic Occupational Fatality (NTOF) system. Although NTOF generally is a comprehensive source of information on work-related injuries and deaths in the United States, it may not include some work-related deaths among 16- and 17-year-olds because the fatalities were not identified as work-related on the death certificates.

To counter the problem, NIOSH underscores its recommendations for preventing occupational injuries and illnesses among adolescent workers. Employers should know the child labor and safety laws and provide safe employment and appropriate supervision. Parents should take an active role in their children's employment decisions.

Educators should consider safety a primary concern when signing work permits and preparing young people for work. Medical providers should take work histories, note employment information on medical records, and provide young people with safety information.

For more information on the study, Occupational Injury Deaths of 16 and 17 Year Olds in the United States: Trends and Comparisons with Older Workers, as well as other information on NIOSH research involving young workers, call NIOSH at (800) 35-NIOSH.