Dozens killed each year, thousands injured

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Each year thousands of American youth under the age of 20 are injured on the job and dozens die from injuries sustained at work. These injuries are due in part to poorly regulated work environments, according to a new article published in “Public Health Reports.”

Kimberly Rauscher, Sc.D., assistant professor in the West Virginia University Department of Community Medicine and member of the WVU Injury Control Research Center, was a co-investigator of the project, which brought together experts from a range of disciplines working in the U.S. and Canada to synthesize what is known about young worker health and safety and to develop a policy and research agenda.

The project’s lead author, Carol Runyan, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health, said, “We don’t tend to think of child labor as a major issue in the U.S., but we should. Laws governing the employment of youth ages 14 to 17 in this country are often very lenient and in the case of family farms virtually non-existent.”

Among the recommendations in the article is a call for stricter oversight of working conditions for youth including those employed in agriculture.  

“Youths who work in agriculture have very few protections while those who work on their family’s farm have even fewer,” Dr. Rauscher said. “Children who work on their family’s farm are allowed to perform virtually any task a parent asks of them, from feeding animals, to driving a tractor, to working in enclosed grain bins, and there are no limits to the hours these children can work.”

Although better protected by the child labor laws, youth who work outside of agriculture are also exposed to a variety of hazards that put them at risk of injury. They can be cut by knives and burned by hot oil and cooking surfaces in restaurants, robbed in retail stores, sustain head injuries from roof falls on construction sites, or be injured in motor vehicle collisions.

Drs. Runyan and Rauscher and colleague John Lewko, Ph.D., of Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada, are using the report to advocate for stronger federal monitoring of youth worker safety, including assuring that children working on farms are better protected. They are also encouraging more research into preventing workplace injuries among young people.

The project was funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which operates a major research facility adjacent to the WVU Health Sciences Center campus in Morgantown, and the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation in Toronto, Canada.

The article, “Setting an Agenda for Advancing Young Worker Safety in the U.S. and Canada,” appears in the May-June issue of “Public Health Reports.”

For additional information:
Carol Runyan, University of Colorado-Denver,

For more information: Amy Johns, Director of Public Affairs, 304-293-7087
hl: 04-18-12