Lifetime work habits develop early
Flipping burgers and working part-time shifts in factories and on construction sites have become such common jobs for teens that many consider them kids’ jobs. But recognizing that thousands of young people get hurt on the job each year, groups representing occupational health and school nursing have combined efforts to help young workers develop safe work habits.
"There are a lot more kids working now, and with more older youth in the workplace, we’re seeing that they are getting injured a lot at work," according to Susan A. Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, president of the Atlanta-based American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN). "We’re concerned about that, because the habits that youths have in their employment now may carry over into their adult workplaces in the future."
AAOHN and the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) recently issued a joint statement outlining how occupational and environmental health nurses and school nurses will work toward promoting safe and healthful environments for working youth.
The AAOHN/NASN joint position statement maintains that "the needs and abilities of youths differ from those of adults and the work in which youths engage should match their physical, cognitive, emotional, and social abilities," and concludes that "it is the responsibility of OHNs and SNs to assume leadership roles in preventing work related injuries and deaths by promoting good health and safety practices among youths."
AAOHN’s pairing with NASN makes good sense, Randolph says, because school nurses see student workers every day, and have opportunities to talk with them about their work, observe any injuries that might be job-related, and talk with students about how to prevent injury.
The U.S. Department of Labor specifies that youths 14 and 15 years of age may work outside school hours in various non-manufacturing, nonmining, nonhazardous jobs up to three hours on a school day, 18 hours in a school week, eight hours on a nonschool day, and 40 hours in a nonschool week. Additionally, all work must be done between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day. During this summer period, evening hours are extended to 9 p.m.
Employers need to take care in evaluating what work their young part-timers and summer interns are doing, Randolph cautions, and this is where occupational health and environmental health nurses can play a valuable role. (For a list of jobs prohibited for young workers, see table.)
Table: Prohibited Hazardous Occupations for Teens (<18)
* Limited exemptions are provided for apprentices and student-learners under specified standards.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Washington, DC.
"They need to look at the jobs these youths are being asked to do, and see if it’s an appropriate task for a kid to do," she points out. "Sometimes, it can be dangerous, like operating farm machinery or driving a forklift. You have to ask whether [the teenager] will know how to react quickly and deal with situations that can arise."
Some of the strategies the collaborative has developed are to:
- Promote school-to-work programs to help youths prepare for and transition to employment.
- Develop and integrate safety practice curricula and workplace rights in transition to career programs, vocational educational classes, shop, and health classes.
- Advocate that youths are entitled to safe working conditions and that they should be informed of baseline job safety regardless of the size and type of company.
- Strongly recommend that youths receive safety and health and child labor law information when they apply for work permits.
- Serve as resources in raising awareness (of youth worker needs) by providing information and participating in surveillance and education and training programs.
Randolph said the two groups are focusing on any workers ages 12-17 years who work full-time or part-time for pay, work in volunteer positions for organized groups, or work on farms.
The AAOHN/NASN position statement dovetails with an initiative begun by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2003. The Young Worker Initiative arose from the same concerns about the safety of young people in the workplace. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), about 70 teens die each year, and about 77,000 receive treatment at a hospital for injuries
"We’ve talked with OSHA about their initiative. We want kids to be safe while they do their work, and to carry on good habits they develop now," Randolph said. "Everyone realizes that youth contribute a lot to society and the economy, and (their working) is important because it gives them a sense of responsibility, they earn money, they develop skills, and they allow employers to get the work done that they need."
For more information, contact:
• Susan A. Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, President, American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, 2920 Brandywine Road, Suite 100, Atlanta, GA 30341. Phone: (770) 455-7757. Web site: www.aaohn.org.
• National Association of School Nurses, 1416 Park St., Suite A, Castle Rock, CO 80109. Phone: (866) 627-6767. E-mail: email@example.com.
• Occupational Safety and Health Administration web site for information on young workers and workplace safety: www.osha.gov/SLTC/teenworkers/index.html.