Workplace Injury Prevention Measures for Young Workers

Young or newly hired employees are getting injured more often than older, more experienced employees. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2016 workers from the ages of 16-24 had a higher risk of injury or illness than any other age group. These injuries are often the result of the many hazards that are present in their workplace. Some of these hazards can be slips, trips, and falls, overexertion, lacerations, contact with objects/equipment and burns.

What is Considered a Young Worker?

Before we continue, I’d like to define “young worker.” In the past, the term “young worker” was commonly used to describe employees under the age of 18 – those who are protected by state and federal Child Labor Laws. Nowadays, the term “young worker” is being used more and more to describe young adult workers also – those between the ages of 18-24. They are also considered new employees and are at a higher risk of being injured on the job.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017 there were about 19 million workers under the age of 24 and this represented about 12% of the entire workforce. Of that 12%, there were 377 workers between the ages of 18-24 that died from work-related injuries and 22 workers under the age of 18 that died from work-related injuries. The causes of death varied, but it’s important to note that there are several common workplace injuries that occur in every industry that both youth and new workers are exposed to.

Most Common Workplace Injuries

Some of the most common workplace injuries that occur are slips, trips, falls, lacerations, burns, and injuries as a result of lifting heavy objects.

1. Slips, trips, and falls. 

This is typically one of the most common types of workplace injuries. According to the BLS, the average incidence rate for slips, trips, and falls is 18.5. This means that for every 10000 workers there are 18.5 slip/trip/fall injuries. Many of these types of injuries can occur when an employee falls from elevation.

Some examples of this type of workplace injury are working from a ladder, falling on steps/stairs, scaffolds, or other platforms. Injuries can also occur when an employee incurs a fall on the same level (a working surface). This type of injury can be caused by slippery floors, poor housekeeping, and inadequate lighting.

2. Lacerations. 

Young workers that are employed in restaurants and supermarkets are at a higher risk of injury when working with box cutters/utility knives, sharp knives and food slicers. Usually, these types of workplace injuries occur to deli workers, cooks, food service assistants, cleaning crews, and grocery store employees. About 80% of these injuries are cuts and lacerations to the hands and fingers. These types of workplace injuries can also lead to an amputation of a finger. This can be a serious injury that can result in a physical impairment that can last a lifetime.

3. Burns.

Young workers in the hospitality and food service industry including wait staff, cooks, and food preparers are at a significant risk for heat related burns and scalding injuries when they work with hot objects and substances. 

According to the American Burn Association (ABA) each year over 450,000 Americans seek emergency medical treatment for the treatment of a burn injury. A typical burn for this industry involves hot oils, fats, hot water, or steam. Young employees can grab hot pans, pots, or trays. This type of workplace injury can be very severe and may require hospitalization or cosmetic surgery.

4. Heavy lifting.

Many young workers think that they are invincible. According to the BLS, there are, on average, 21.8 lifting and overexertion injuries per 10,000 workers due to heavy lifting/overexertion. This is the second highest incidence rate for workers between the ages of 16-24. Young workers, especially in the food service industry and grocery store industry, are at a significant risk due to lifting heavy objects. These objects include boxes, crates, larger bags, and buckets. Typical work injuries that occur are sprains, strains, and tears. This type of loss can occur to material handlers, shippers/receivers, retail and grocery clerks.

5. Contact with objects and equipment.

Young workers can be at significant risk of injury as a result of getting caught in running equipment or machinery in a variety of industries. In fact, the BLS states that this type of injury has, on average, 40.8 injuries per 10,000 workers between the ages of 16-24. The next nearest age group is the 25-34-year-old age range which has 25.8 injuries per 10,000 workers. These types of workplace injuries typically occur to workers in the wood/paper industry, metal fabrication, material handlers, cooks and bakers, resulting in lacerations and broken bones.

Workplace Injury Prevention Measures for Young Workers

Now that we went over some of the most common causes of loss that occur to young and new workers, let’s go over some of the ways that workplace injuries can be reduced.

Pre-screening Process is Essential for Young Workers

First, youth and new employees should go through a rigorous pre-screening process. You should ensure that all workers are fit for duty and do not have any limiting physical conditions. There should also be a formal orientation program that all new employees go through that includes a review of company policies, the employee handbook, and the company safety policies.

It’s Up to Management to Deliver Comprehensive Training

Next, young workers should receive the necessary safety training from their supervisors, managers, etc. to start their new job. Additionally, they should also receive periodic safety training after they are hired so they can continue to complete their job in a safe manner. Per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an employer has the responsibility to provide a safe workplace. An employer must also provide the necessary training about any workplace hazards and any required safety gear.

Types of Training to Prevent Workplace Injuries

Now let’s discuss some of the different types of safety training that all industries can do to reduce workplace injuries. First would be to keep your workplace clean – good housekeeping. This can be done by keeping floors dry/clear of debris to prevent slips, trips, and falls. Complete regular floor cleaning and train your employees how to properly clean your floors. When a spill occurs, address it immediately and put up the proper signage. You can also keep your facility well-lit and keep walkways clear of any obstructions. Using anti-slip coatings on your floors, requiring workers to wear non-slip footwear, and the use of anti-slip rugs/mats are all great preventive measures to employ.

Watch our webinar on ‘Proper Floor Care Procedures.

Many injuries can also be prevented by using/supplying the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Young workers or all workers for that matter, should wear safety glasses, shields, and/or welding helmets when using tools that create flying objects such as grinding, sanding, welding, exposed to molten metal, hazardous chemicals or vapors. Also, if they are working in an area where there is the possibility of being struck by a falling object, then they should be wearing hard hats. 

Lacerations are a very common cause of injury to many young or new workers. Wearing gloves is a good way to reduce the exposure to lacerations. When choosing a style of glove, make sure that it is the proper glove for the job. Another common type of PPE is hearing protection. This is typically in the form of ear plugs or earmuffs. Most workers take good hearing for granted. Hearing loss is a gradual process that can go unnoticed until it’s too late. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t hear someone less than two feet away without shouting, it’s too loud and hearing protection should be worn.

Understanding Child Labor Laws

Earlier, we went over information pertaining to injuries that occur from contact with objects and equipment. If you have ever hired young workers under the age of 18, you should already know that child labor laws prohibit any worker under the age of 18 to work in a hazardous occupation. The Department of Labor (DOL) has created a list of hazardous occupations. An employee under the age of 18 cannot operate any machinery, power tools, drive vehicles, commercial cooking or baking, or any construction jobs. Eighteen is the minimum age that any employee can work in a hazardous occupation per the DOL. All your employees over the age of 18 should be properly trained on all the tools and equipment they will use to perform their job safely. Also, all the tools and equipment should be properly maintained and guarded.        

Implementing Basic Safety Training for Young Workers is Essential

As stated earlier, we are all aware that young or newly hired employees face a higher injury rate than older, more experienced employees. We also know that a workplace injury can leave a major impact on an employee and their employer. This would include medical payments, workers’ compensation paperwork, and low morale. There are ways of reducing the impact of a workplace related injury to an employee and employer. A good first step would be to implement some basic safety training for your young workers and new employees.   

Society’s risk management team can help your business identify and eliminate key risk areas. Contact your local Society Insurance agent to learn more about how Society can protect your business.


Jay graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a B.S.E. degree in Occupational Safety in 1985. He began his career working in the risk control departments of various insurance companies. He joined the Society Risk Control Department in 1999.

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