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Should teens work in construction?

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Snapshot for May 16, 2007.

Should teens work in construction?

by Monique Morrissey and Ross Eisenbrey

With the school year nearly over, the nation’s teens are starting to look for summer jobs. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommended that these teens should be barred from jobs in the construction industry, known for its extremely dangerous work conditions. The Bush Administration, however, has questioned this federal agency’s recommendation,1 claiming that NIOSH relied on incomplete data and that more research was needed.2

Despite the Bush Administration’s claims, the facts speak for themselves. Outside of agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting—which have always been dangerous and under-regulated—construction is by far the most hazardous industry employing significant numbers of workers under 18.3 Though mining and the transportation & warehousing sectors have higher fatality rates (see the chart below), these jobs are largely closed to youth.4

Fatalities by industry, 2005

Source: “Number and rate of fatal occupational injuries by private industry sector, 2005,” U.S. Dept. of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.

NIOSH’s recommendation was based on the high injury and illness rates for construction workers overall, as well as the particular dangers youth face in construction jobs, where they are more than twice as likely to be killed than older construction workers.5 The fatality rate for youth working in construction was roughly five times the fatality rate for all workers6 and seven times the rate for youth in other industries.7

1. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Recommendations to the U.S. Department of Labor for Changes to Hazardous Orders,” May 3, 2002.

2. “DOL Proposes Youth Employment Rules, Solicits Comments on Hazardous Jobs,” BNA Daily Labor Report, April 17, 2007. Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division, Proposed Rules for 29 CFR Part 570: Child Labor Regulations, Orders and Statements of Interpretation, April 17, 2007.

3. Sectors employing 15- to 17-year-olds: retail (60%); other services (18%); agriculture, forestry and fishing (8%); manufacturing (4%); construction (3%); all other (

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