Fast-food restaurants can be hazardous for teens

Adolescent workers injured on the job in the restaurant industry are most likely to be working in fast-food establishments, a new study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found.

Studying data from a national sample of hospitals over a two-year period, NIOSH estimated that approximately 44,800 occupational injuries to teen restaurant industry workers (ages 14 to 17) were treated in hospital emergency departments across the United States during that time. Of these injuries, an estimated 28,000 or 63% occurred in hamburger, pizza, and other fast-food establishments.

Adolescents working in the restaurant industry, in general, were at six times greater risk of sustaining a work-related burn injury than teens working in any other industry, the study found. Overall, during the period studied, emergency departments treated an estimated 108,000 work-related injuries to teens in all industries.

"As young people prepare to take temporary employment or work extra hours . . . it is important to be aware that adolescents are injured on the job far too often," says NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, MD, MPH. "All of us have key roles in preventing these injuries, now and throughout the year."

In general, the restaurant industry and other retail businesses rank high among U.S. industries for risk of adolescent worker injuries. The retail trades employ many of the nation’s working adolescents.

Because statistics are not available on the number of adolescents working specifically in the fast-food industry, researchers lack key data for determining if these teens are at higher risk proportionally than their counterparts in other segments of the restaurant industry. Even in the absence of those measures, the findings from the new study show a need for better training and other steps to protect young workers, Rosenstock says.

The NIOSH study also found that for teens working in fast-food establishments:

• Although males and females had similar injury rates, risks for injury by task and location differed by gender. Adolescent male employees were more likely to suffer burns, lacerations, and other injuries while performing tasks associated with cooking, while adolescent female employees were more likely to suffer contusions, strains, sprains, and other injuries while completing tasks related to cashiering and servicing tables.

• Nearly half of all burn injuries involved hot grease. Such injuries can be prevented by providing handles on scrapers and other cleaning tools, providing appropriate gloves, allowing grease to cool before it is moved, and training employees in safe work practices, among other precautions, NIOSH suggested.

• More than half of all fall injuries were related to wet or greasy floors. It is important to use slip-resistant floor materials and to keep floors dry and well-maintained, Rosenstock says.

• By age, 17-year-olds suffered the highest proportion of injuries among teens working in fast food (55%), followed by 16-year-olds (38%).

• The majority of injuries to teen workers in fast food restaurants occurred in hamburger restaurants (52.6%), followed by pizza restaurants (12.6%), and chicken/fish restaurants (11.7%).

[For further information, call (800) 35-NIOSH or (800) 356-4674.]