Soon, teenagers by the millions will be seeking summer jobs – the vast majority at small businesses coast to coast. An estimated 18 million U.S. teens will work this year, one of the highest totals in the developed world.
Speaking as a parent of teens, this is a good thing. But the U.S. Department of Labor’s take on teens seems closer to a line in the My Chemical Romance song “Teenagers” which says “Teenagers scare the living @#$% out of me.” DOL, you see, is rife with rules and regulations on teen labor, and prone to enforcing them with fines and sanctions.
For example – and not to pick on Portland – but one recent DOL “enforcement initiative” involving Portland restaurants found violations of minimum wage, overtime and child-labor laws at a whopping 79 percent of the eateries checked. Even kid-focused Chuck E. Cheese locations in San Francisco were fined $28,000 for violating child-labor rules. Whoops!
Most rules are common sense, and deal with safety issues. That’s because young workers suffer a disproportionate share of on-the-job injuries. About 160,000 teens suffer work-related injuries or illnesses yearly – about one third of them requiring emergency room treatment.
And more than 75 percent of incidents happen in the retail and service industries – not the sectors usually considered more injury-prone, such as manufacturing and construction.
Young workers – especially those in their first summer jobs – are at greater risk of workplace injury because of their inexperience. And also because, well, they are teenagers who may hesitate to ask questions and may fail to recognize workplace dangers. (What did that song say?)
Familiarize yourself with federal and state laws on teen employment – especially the rules on what types of jobs teens are specifically not allowed to perform.
Dozens of private suppliers sell OSHA compliance materials, and there are many safety consultants to choose from, available easily online. But your best starting point is OSHA’s small-business website at www.osha.gov/smallbusiness.
Another helpful government site called “TeenWorkers” has a wide range of information on summer-job safety for specific sectors such as construction, landscaping, parks and recreation, lifeguards and restaurants. Under landscaping, for example, you’ll find tips on preventing injury from pesticides, electrical hazards, noise and many others.