Young Worker Injuries


  • Sixteen to seventeen year old workers have a higher rate of accepted workers' compensation claims and a lower rate of compensable workers' compensation claims than workers over the age of 24 years.
  • Eighteen to twenty‑one year old workers have a higher rate of accepted and compensable workers' compensation claims than workers over the age of 24 years.
  • Workers' compensation costs of young worker injuries are a small portion to the overall workers' compensation costs for workplace injuries; this could be due to less time‑loss duration for young worker injuries and wage differences between age groups.
  • For 16‑21 year old workers, 19% of all state fund compensable claims are in the construction industry and account for 35% of state fund compensable claim cost.
  • Washington State's Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has several programs to address young workers and occupational safety.


In Washington State, the Employment Standards Division and L&I enforce regulations restricting children less than 18 years of age from hazardous work. Employers of these workers are required to obtain a minor work permit endorsement on their business license, signed permission from the youth's parent and school, and comply with state and federal laws which restrict when and what work young workers perform.

Despite laws that regulate and restrict the work activities of teen workers ( there are still tragic injuries that occur. In Washington State, Miller and Kaufman (1998) reported that accepted workers' compensation claims rate for workers aged 16‑17 was almost double the rate of workers 18 and older from 1988‑1991; 19.4 accepted claims per 100 full‑time equivalents (FTEs) compared to 10.6 accepted claims per 100 full‑time equivalents. Workers under the age of 18 are not the only young workers population that suffers from tragic injuries. From 1998‑2007, the average number of young worker (ages 15‑24) fatalities in the United States was 572, 93% of these fatalities occurred to workers aged 18‑24 years.2

L&I's Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) team is analyzing injury rates for workers from 2005‑2007. The analysis compares rates of minors (ages 16‑17) and other young workers (ages 18‑24) to older workers (ages 25 and older). The analysis does not calculate injury rates for 14 and 15 year olds because employment data to calculate injury rates are not available.


Injury rates used L&I's workers' compensation claims database for injuries and the American Community Survey data to estimate the number of full time equivalent employees (FTEs) for different age strata. L&I collects age and employer data on all workers' compensation injury and illness claims that occur in Washington State. Injury rates for all accepted claims and for those claims that were compensable can be calculated. An accepted claim is one that meets eligibility criteria for workers' compensation benefits. Compensable claims are those that result in more than 3 lost workdays, or where the worker was kept on salary, or had total permanent disability.

The American Community Survey (ACS) was utilized to determine the number of estimated FTEs for each age group. The ACS uses the decennial census long form to gather population and housing information for a sample of the U.S. population annually, rather than every 10 years. Rates were calculated per 10,000 FTEs. FTEs are calculated by multiplying the average hours worked per week by the average weeks worked per year for a specific population and dividing the resulting product by 2000. One FTE is equivalent to 2000 hours in this study.

While age data is available for all workers' compensation claims in Washington State, regardless if the employer self‑insures or insures through L&I, only claims data in L&I's workers' compensation database provides the cost of the occupational injury or illness. The Washington State's workers' compensation insures 99.75% of Washington employers and approximately 70% of the eligible workers. We adjusted the cost of the claims for inflation by utilizing the Consumer Price Index inflation calculator with 2007 as the reference year.

According to 2005‑2007 ACS estimates, the top five industries employing the greatest number of workers aged 16‑17 years old were: Restaurant/Food industry, Retail Grocery Stores, Entertainment and other Amusement Establishments (e.g. bowling alleys, fitness centers, and golf courses), Retail Department/Discount Stores, and Construction (Table 1).


There were a total of 489,498 accepted workers' compensation claims and 138,104 compensable workers' compensation claims in Washington from 2005‑2007. Table 2 shows the age distribution and percentage of both accepted and compensable workers' compensation claims.

Figures 1‑4 provide information regarding injury rates by age and industry, the median cost of the state fund compensable claims for select industries, restaurants/food service industry and construction industry, and the workers' compensation median time‑loss duration by age and industry. The overall cost of the compensable state fund claims was $3.5 billion dollars with an average and median claim cost of approximately $26,000 and $5,000, respectively.

Table 1: Top Five Employers of 16‑17 Year Olds in WA from 2005‑2007**
North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Code and Description Estimated Number of Workers % of Workforce Aged 16‑17
722 ‑ Restaurants and Food Service 40,908 36.2%
4451 ‑ Retail Grocery Stores 11,967 10.6%
713 ‑ Entertainment Other Amusement 7,440 6.6%
45211 ‑ Retail Department/Discount Stores 5,406 4.8%
23 ‑ Construction 2,499 2.2%
All Other NAICS Combined 44,679 39.6%
**Estimated number of workers is a total number over 3 years and workers could be counted more than once over 3 year time period.**

Table 2: Number of Accepted and Compensable Claims by Age Group, Washington 2005‑2007
Age of Injured WA Workers Total Accepted Claims (%)
N = 489,498
Total Compensable Claims (%)
N = 138,104
16‑17 3,338 (.7%) 401 (.3%)
18‑21 42,737 (9%) 7,021 (5%)
22‑24 40,507 (8%) 7,786 (6%)
25‑44 237,277 (48%) 64,403 (47%)
45‑64 165,639 (34%) 58,493 (42%)

Chart data discussed in text below.
Chart data discussed in text below.
Chart data discussed in text below.
Chart data discussed in text below.


The accepted claims rate for workers aged 16‑17 years old and workers aged 18‑21 are considerably higher than the older worker populations, 25‑44 and 45‑64 years old (Figure 1). For compensable claims the rate for 18‑21 year old workers exceeds that of the minor workers, and all other age groups except the oldest workers in the restaurant/food service industry (Figure 2). This observation of increased injury risk for workers aged 18‑21 in the workplace might be due to both the entry of new workers into the workforce and the absence of the additional protections afforded to minor workers restricting their work activities.

The median cost per claim for young workers (less than 25 years old) was less than the median cost per claim of older workers (25 years and older). This difference in cost could be due to the lesser time‑loss duration for younger age groups (Figure 4) and wage differentials between age groups; generally older workers are compensated at a higher wage. For all industries combined, workers aged 45‑64 have median time‑loss duration of 56 days; 16‑17 year olds have a median time‑loss duration of 16 days.

The rates and cost of the injuries within the construction industry for workers aged 16‑17 and 18‑21 is especially troublesome. Construction has the highest rate of injury for both accepted and compensable claims within these age groups (Figures 1 & 2). Median claim costs and median time‑loss duration in construction exceed those of other industries possibly indicating more severe injuries when compared to injured young workers in other industries. (Figure 3 & 4). The distribution of state fund claim costs by industry for 16‑17 year old injured workers indicates that construction injuries account for only 7% of claims but over 26% of all this age group's state funded compensable claims costs. The injuries that occur in the construction industry for 18‑21 year old workers, like 16‑17 year old workers, are more costly than injuries in the restaurant/food service industry. Thirty‑five percent of all state funded compensable claims costs for workers aged 18‑21 are due to an injury that occurred in construction, compared to 5% due to the restaurant/food service industry.

L&I is committed to reducing the number of occupational injuries that affect young workers. L&I utilizes programs that increase awareness, educate, and enforce current laws and regulations to reduce young worker occupational injuries. Employment Standards, Public Affairs, and the SHARP team all are working on addressing this serious issue. Some of the activities that are currently in place include outreach, education, and activities to teachers, teens and employers; the Injured Young Worker Speaker Series, and the continued enhancement of a young worker research and surveillance program.

In addition, through collaboration between the University of Washington's Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, and L&I's Employment Standards Program, health and safety curricula ( have been developed and are available to download. These materials provide information to educate young workers about how to recognize and avoid hazards in the workplace, their rights at work as well as what is expected of the employer. The curricula are available to Washington State educators, employers, or other youth‑based organizations. For more information contact Steve Hecker at the University of Washington at or 206‑543‑9540.

The Injured Young Worker Speaker Series is an education and awareness campaign. This campaign utilizes speakers from WorkSafe BC ( who have suffered a severe occupational injury while they were between the ages of 16‑24. These speakers visit schools and skills centers around the state and share their stories with students to encourage them to take steps to protect themselves at their job. For more information contact Xenofon Moniodis with Public Affairs at or 360‑902‑6458.

Young worker research and surveillance program monitors characteristics of young worker injuries, creates reports and distributes information to ensure that prevention programs and materials are targeted towards areas of need. For more information on young worker surveillance contact either or 360‑902‑5667 toll free at 888-667-4277 or Mary Miller of Employment Standards at or 360‑902‑6041. For more details on other strategies to protect young workers go to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health young workers website ( or see Miller et al. (2007).3


  1. Miller, ME., & Kaufman, JD. (1998). Occupational injuries among adolescents in Washington State, 1988‑1991. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 34, 121‑132.
  2. Estes, CR., Jackson, LL., & Castillo, DN. (2010). Occupational injuries and deaths among younger workers‑‑‑United States, 1998‑2007. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 59(15), 449‑455.
  3. Miller, ME., Handelman, E., & Lewis, C. (2007). Protecting young workers coordinated strategies help to raise safety awareness. Professional Safety, June, 38‑45.

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