September 24, 2020

NIOSH: Young Workers Disproportionately Affected by Nonfatal Occupational Injuries

Young workers aged 15–24 years continue to experience a disproportionately high rate of occupational injury compared with adult workers aged 25–44 years, according to an analysis published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). NIOSH researchers set out to describe injuries among young workers by analyzing data for 2012–2018 from the occupational supplement to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and for 2018 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. They found that an estimated 3.2 million nonfatal occupational injuries to young workers were treated in hospital emergency departments during 2012–2018, and the highest injury rate, 404 per 10,000 full-time equivalent workers, occurred among those aged 18–19 years. Annual rates of work-related injuries treated in emergency departments for workers aged 15–24 ranged 1.2 to 2.3 times higher than for adults aged 25–44 years.

The leading cause of occupational injuries treated in emergency departments among all age groups examined was contact with objects and equipment. The most common type of injuries reported among workers under the age of 25 were lacerations and punctures. According to NIOSH researchers, sprains and strains were the most common injuries among workers aged 25 to 44 years. Approximately half of some of the youngest workers (aged 15–17 years) with a reported injury were employed in the leisure and hospitality industry, with most injuries occurring in the accommodation and food services subsector.

“The disparity in the number of injuries among young workers has been reported in other countries,” the report states. “Young workers might be less likely to recognize workplace hazards, voice safety concerns, and be aware of their legal protections.”

The MMWR report stresses that a comprehensive public health strategy is needed to protect young workers. According to the authors, preventive interventions that target employers in leisure and hospitality could reduce work-related injuries among young workers. The report also outlines potential roles for other stakeholders. For example, parents and healthcare providers can discuss workplace safety topics with young people, and state and federal agencies involved in enforcement activities can promote workplace safety as “an essential element of job preparation initiatives.”

Resources for educating young workers about workplace safety and health include the Safety Matters training program, developed by NIOSH and AIHA. Safety Matters can be used by industrial hygiene and safety professionals to equip students in grades 7 through 12 with the skills and knowledge necessary to participate in safe and healthy work environments.

For more information, view the MMWR report on CDC’s website.