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August 14, 2003

L&I urges employers to keep kids away from workplace hazards

TUMWATER - The deaths of three teenagers this week has prompted the Department of Labor & Industries to remind employers that teens should be kept safe and away from hazardous job duties.

In the past week, L&I investigators responded to two separate fatality incidents involving teenagers. L&I officials are assessing both situations to determine whether there were violations in safety and health or child labor laws.

“Tragedies can be avoided by keeping teens away from dangerous work activities,” said L&I Director Paul Trause. “We must work together to make sure our children are safe as they learn about the world of work."

Teens are twice as likely to suffer a workplace injury as adults, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Teens are most likely to suffer injuries such as cuts, sprains and burns as they work in restaurants, grocery and department stores, health-care facilities, amusement parks, recreation facilities and in agriculture. However, they are also at risk of fractures, concussions, amputations and even fatal injuries.

Employers who want to hire teens need a minor work endorsement for their master business license and a parent authorization form for the teen's work hours and job assignments.

Here are some of the other rules for employers in Washington who hire teenage workers:

  • In general, 14- and 15-year-olds may perform lighter tasks such as office work, cashiering and stocking shelves, bagging and carrying groceries, janitorial and grounds maintenance (without operating power mowers or cutters), and food service that does not involve cooking or baking duties.
  • Work assignments for 16- and 17-year-olds can be less restrictive. Their jobs may include such things as cooking, baking, landscaping, window washing (no more than 10 feet off the ground), maintenance and repair, and amusement-park work.
  • Generally, if safety equipment other than a hard hat, eye protection or gloves is required to do the job, it's not an appropriate job for minors.
  • Agricultural rules prohibit all minors from working with certain chemicals, pesticides and explosives, and in other hazardous jobs. Additional restrictions, including operating equipment, apply to minors under age 16.

More resources are at www.LNI.wa.gov/scs/workstandards/teenworker.htm.

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For media information, contact: Elaine Fischer, 360-902-5413, or nele235@lni.wa.gov.

Additional contacts and resources for reporters:

  • Child labor expert Darren Linker, School to Work Program Manager, University of Washington: 206-616-7566; dlinker@u.washington.edu.
  • The National Consumers League May 2003 report “Clocking in for trouble: Teens and unsafe work” is at www.nclnet.org/childlabor/.
  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Child Labor Working Team was formed to identify research, surveillance, and intervention actions to prevent injuries and illnesses among working children and adolescents. View its report.

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