National Consumers League

NCL issues warning to teens: Avoid these most dangerous summer jobs

June 3, 2016

Contact: NCL Communications, Cindy Hoang, cindyh@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—As millions of American teenagers begin summer jobs this month, a national child labor watchdog group is issuing a warning to avoid this year’s most dangerous seasonal work. The National Consumers League (NCL), the country’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy group, founded in 1899 to fight child labor, issued its annual report on the worst jobs for teens, with work in tobacco fields topping the list.

“Nearly 5,000 workers die on the job each year in the United States, an average of 13 workers a day. Tragically, some of those workers are teenagers,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Summer jobs are a great American tradition, a wonderful learning and earning opportunity. But each teen worker death causes irreparable suffering and pain to the families, friends, and communities of these youth. Today we issue our annual warning to serve as a reminder to teens and parents that there are jobs that pose extreme risks to youth workers and should be avoided at all costs.”

Thousands of American children are hurt on the job each year, approximately one every 9 minutes, according to the Children’s Safety Network. In a typical year, 20-30 U.S. children will die on the job, although the statistics are generally trending in the right direction; 20 years ago, that number was 70+ per year. In 2012, 29 children died while working. In 2013, that number fell sharply to 14, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Unfortunately, progress isn’t always steady. The teen work death toll increased from 14 in 2013 to 21 in 2014—the latest year for which we have data. “We hope that the increase does not represent a trend,” said Greenberg.

The 2016 report names five job categories that present an above average risk of injury or fatality. It also provides practical advice for staying safe as well as tips for parents and employers to help make teen work safer.

NCL’s 2016 Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens 

  • Tobacco harvester
  • Agriculture: Harvesting crops and using machinery
  • Traveling youth sales crews
  • Construction and height work
  • Outside helper: Landscaping, grounds keeping and lawn service 

“Many teens lack the experience and sense of caution needed to protect themselves from dangerous conditions on the job,” said Reid Maki, director of child labor advocacy and report author. “In addition, they are often reluctant to challenge authority or  ask for safety information. Their judgment and ability to exercise caution is still developing. Parents should keep a close eye on the type of work their children perform and encourage kids to tell their employer, ‘I’m sorry, that seems dangerous.’”

NCL’s Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens encourages youth workers to say “no” when certain dangerous tasks are requested. NCL includes the following blacklist of jobs that involve any of the following tasks:

  • door-to-door sales, especially out of the youth’s neighborhood;
  • long-distance traveling away from parental supervision;
  • extensive driving or being driven;
  • driving forklifts, tractors, and other potentially dangerous vehicles;
  • the use of dangerous machinery;
  • the use of chemicals;
  • working in grain storage facilities; and
  • work on ladders or roofs or other work that involves heights where there is a risk of falling.

Recent on-the-job deaths of American teens

Over time, government agencies, NCL, and other youth advocates have tracked the categories of jobs that have proved most dangerous to teens, and NCL’s report is intended to make teens and their parents aware of those dangers. However, teens are injured and even killed working jobs that don’t fall into the most dangerous jobs categories.

  • Farmhand Heather Marie Barley, 17, of Buckley, Michigan, died suddenly while working on a hog farm in December 2015. Elevated levels of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide were suspected to have come from a steam generator connected to a pressure washer.
  • On his first day on the job feeding tree limbs into a wood chipper, in December 2015, 19-year-old Mason Cox in Gastonia, North Carolina died instantly when his body was pulled into the chipper. His employer was so disturbed by the incident that he had a heart attack.
  • December 2015: 19-year-old Oscar Martin-Refugio was shot in the heart by robbers as he worked in a Bridgeport, Connecticut pizza shop. He died soon after.
  • Grant Thompson, 18, died from a snakebite while working in his parents’ pet shop in Austin, Texas in July 2015.
  • In October 2014, 18-year-old Jeremy McSpadden, Jr., of Spokane Valley, Washington was working as an actor at a Halloween haunted hayride when he died tragically after losing his footing and falling under the rear wheel of a bus.

To read the full report, click here (PDF).

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League (NCL), founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL chairs the Child Labor Coalition, which seeks to remove children from work that threatens their health or development. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org or www.stopchildlabor.org.