Teen Workers Are in Demand

So it is important to keep them safe on the job.

By Alexandra Walsh

As companies across the nation continue to struggle to find workers, high school students are becoming a popular part of the job market.

Teens working in the groundwater industry is nothing new. Thousands of today’s groundwater professionals were teens once working summers in the family business.

Today, though, career tech students are in high demand, and teenagers in general are a group plugging some gaps in the nationwide labor shortage.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported national unemployment for teens ages 16 to 19 has fallen below pre-pandemic levels—all the way from 11.5% in February 2020 to 9.6% in July 2021. The last time it was lower than 9.6% was when it was 8.6% in November 1953.

Providing Training

For many teenagers around the country, a job can be a rite of passage providing independence, valuable job and life skills, and experiences that bridge the transition to adulthood.

Despite these benefits, work can also have serious risks. About every 5 minutes, a teen aged 15–19 is injured at work. They suffer roughly twice the rate of injuries as adult workers over age 24.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:

  • In 2015, 403 workers under the age of 24 died from work-related injuries.
  • In 2015, there were 24 deaths to workers under 18 years of age.
  • In 2014, the rate of work-related injuries treated in emergency departments for workers ages 15–19 was a little more than two times greater than the rate for workers 25 years of age and older.

It’s important to give teen workers the same safety training that other steady employees receive. You can’t cut the corner for safety training, even though a teen’s employment might not be as long or their age prevents them from doing some of the jobs as older workers.

Younger workers often share characteristics that are unique to their age group. For many, it’s their first job and they don’t have experience in the workplace. What’s more, they don’t have life experience. Someone young might have a tendency not to speak up if an adult tells them to do something—even if it might feel unsafe to them, or they might not recognize it as being unsafe.

Employers have the main responsibility to provide workers, both older and teen employees, with a safe and healthy workplace. But safety takes teamwork. Parents, teachers, and yes, teens themselves, play a crucial role in contributing to safe and healthy work experiences for younger employees.

Resources for Teen Workers
NIOSH is participating in the social media campaign, Keep Teen Workers Safe, this summer to provide workplace safety and health information and resources to employers of youth, young workers, parents, and educators. This effort is part of a larger campaign to protect teen workers at their jobs year-round. Go to keepteenworkerssafe.org for more information.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s YouthRules! initiative promotes positive and safe work experiences for teens by providing information about protections for young workers. From the website, www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/youthrules, employers can quickly access information about federal and state labor laws that apply to young workers. The website also educates teens on the rules and provides information for parents, educators, and employers.

Jobs Teens Cannot Do

Teens under the age of 18 also have special protections at work under state and federal child labor laws. Federal child labor regulations restrict the number of hours teens under age 16 may work and prevent those under age 18 from working certain dangerous jobs.

Many states have more restrictions. So it’s important for teens and the employers who hire them to be aware of these special protections.

Child labor laws protect teen workers from dangerous jobs. As examples, if they’re under 18, they can’t:

  • Drive anything with a motor on public streets as part of the job (17-year-olds may drive, but only for a few reasons the law allows)
  • Drive, ride on, repair, or work from a forklift, Bobcat, backhoe, or other powered machinery
  • Drive, ride on, repair, or work from powered hoists such as cherry pickers
  • Use power tools and machinery like a circular saw, chain saw, woodchipper, box crusher, paper baler
  • Work in wrecking, demolition, excavation, or roofing
  • Work where they can be exposed to radiation
  • Work where explosives are produced or stored.

If a worker is 14 or 15, the laws are obviously even stricter. They can’t:

  • Use most power-driven machinery
  • Work on a ladder or scaffold
  • Work in warehouses
  • Take jobs in construction, manufacturing, or mining
  • Load or unload a truck, railroad car, or conveyor.

Employer Guidelines

When hiring teen workers, employers should follow these guidelines to provide a safe and healthy place to work.

  • Learn and comply with the federal and state child labor laws that apply to young workers.
  • Choose and provide—at no cost to youth workers—safety gear that can protect them as they work. This includes such things as earplugs,
    protective gloves, safety glasses, or special clothing if needed.
  • Tell them about the hazards on your jobsite and, if required by law, how to deal with them. This might include training on how to handle chemicals safely.
  • Provide safety training using words that teens can understand. Point out safety precautions and possible workplace hazards. Give
    clear instruction for each task, especially unfamiliar ones. Provide hands-on training on correct use of equipment. Reinforce training constantly.
  • Avoid making assumptions about what young workers know, even if something seems obvious. They may be embarrassed or uncomfortable to ask questions.
  • Supervise teens closely, correcting any issues immediately.
  • Prepare teens for emergencies such as fires and violent or unexpected, dangerous situations.
  • Make sure teens know how to use personal protective equipment if needed.
  • Adopt a mentoring or buddy system with an adult or experienced workplace peer.
  • Encourage open communication where questions are welcome and expected.
  • Tell young workers what to do if they get hurt on the job.
  • Set a good safety example.

It is important to create a workplace culture that encourages young workers to ask questions about any and all health and safety concerns.

Young Workers’ Responsibilities

Teenage employees have responsibilities as well. They must follow the safe work practices at their jobsite, report hazards to their supervisor or another adult, and speak up when they don’t feel safe.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remind young workers of their own responsibilities when beginning a job:

  • Learn your rights and responsibilities that apply to safety and health where you work.
  • Ask a coworker or your boss about these or read the employee bulletin board or handbook.
  • Ask your boss about safety training and learn about the dangers before you start a job or a new task.
  • Report any health and safety hazards to your supervisor.
  • Find out what to do if you get hurt at work.
  • Know and follow all safety rules and instructions.
  • Find out what to do in an emergency from your supervisor or coworkers.
  • Use safety equipment and protective clothing when needed.
  • Stay alert and work safely.
  • Don’t take shortcuts.
  • Look out for your fellow workers.
  • Respect the people you work with—never harass or bully anyone.


Teenagers working jobs in the summer has been around for decades, but teens are certainly becoming a bigger and more critical part of the workplace. With proper training and focus from employers and the teen workers, they can be a safe part of the workplace too.

Get Safety Products from NGWA
Go to the NGWA online bookstore and get items to keep you safe. Included are:

Model Environmental Health & Safety Manual, a downloadable complete safety program that can be stored online or in a three-ring binder.

Employee Safety Manual, second edition, a 40-page pocket-size book with details on a variety of safety topics.

Safety Meetings for the Groundwater Industry, which contain details for leading weekly safety meetings printed on two-part carbonless paper with areas for employee and supervisor signatures.

Click here to learn more.

Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.