Question of the Week
October 11, 2004


Do you have a job? Are you looking for one?

"In 1993, 68 adolescents under age 18 died from work-related injuries, and an estimated 64,000 required treatment in hospital emergency rooms. Adolescents have a high risk for work-related injury compared with adults.... Sixty-eight percent of occupationally injured 14- to 16-year-olds experienced limitations in their normal activities (including work, school, and play) for at least 1 day, and 25% experienced limitation in their normal activities for more than a week [Knight et al. 1995]. More than half of these adolescents reported that they had not received any training in how to prevent the injury they sustained. A supervisor was present at the time of the injury in only about 20% of the cases."

Teenagers are new to the work force, and therefore less likely to know what to expect from a safe work environment. Ignorant employees make it easier for employers who are trying to cut corners.

"Hazardous environments put youths at risk of serious injuries: young workers have been killed on construction sites, during robberies while tending retail establishments, and while working on farms; common nonfatal injuries include sprains and strains, burns, cuts, and bruises..."

It is not just teens who are targeted. An uneducated and eager (even desperate) workforce is often easier to exploit.

"With limited education, poor or nonexistent English skills, and illegal or temporary immigration status, low-wage immigrant workers such as Calixtro perform the most dangerous jobs, are unlikely to complain about hazards and rarely understand their legal rights, according to a 2002 report by UC Berkeley's Labor and Occupational Health Program. As a result, the rate of fatalities among Latino workers is 25 percent higher than the rate recorded for all workers, and foreign-born Latino workers are more likely to die than Latinos born in this country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.... Day laborers such as Albarado and Cid are often undocumented, as was Calixtro, but Flores says immigrant workers who are citizens or have the legal right to work in this country are just as likely to be abused.... Flores often works from the offices of the Instituto Laboral de la Raza in San Francisco's Mission District. The organization's bilingual staff helps immigrant workers file worker's compensation claims for injuries and back wages. Sarah Shaker, the organization's executive director, estimates 'virtually none' of the 140 new workers seeking help each month is aware of their rights. 'Even if they are aware of their rights, they're scared,' said Michael Garcia, a legal assistant at the Instituto. 'That's the only job they have, and they'll put up with all the abuses.'",1413,83~1971~2460036,00.html

So you are new to a job--or looking for one. Maybe you think a friend or family member is not being treated as he or she should? How do you know what is unreasonable, and what is right?

"You have the right to:

  • A safe and healthful workplace free of recognized hazards....
  • Refuse to work if you believe in good faith that the job or conditions are dangerous and are exposing you to imminent danger....
  • Speak up! If you notice a safety hazard at work, report it to your supervisor or boss....
  • Work only the limited hours and at the types of work permitted by state and federal laws....
  • Use required personal protective equipment...
  • Get training about health and safety, including information about machines, job tasks, and hazardous chemicals that could be harmful to your health.
  • Demand payment for your work, at least minimum wage for your state....
  • Ask for payment for medical care (workers' compensation) if you get injured or sick because of your job....
  • Work without racial or sexual harassment...."

While you have the right to expect certain things from your employers, you have responsibilities, as well.

"What are teen responsibilities?

  • Follow your employer's safety and health rules and wear or use all required gear and equipment.
  • Follow safe work practices for your job...
  • Ask questions!...
  • Tell your supervisor, boss, parent, or other adult if you feel threatened or endangered at work....
  • Be aware of your environment at all times. Be careful....
  • Be involved in establishing or improving your worksite safety and health program.
  • Trust your instincts....

No matter who you are, "OSHA's mission is to assure the safety and health of America's workers by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach, and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health."

If you are (or know) someone who is more comfortable communicating in Spanish....

Departamento del Trabajo de EE.UU
Administración de Seguridad y Salud Ocupacional

Or you are a teen working your first job...

"You found us! - the premier site for teen worker safety and health information provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Our mission is to help you stay healthy and safe while on the job. Whether you work part-time, full-time, over the summer for a few extra bucks, or the entire year, you have come to the right place to get the scoop on how your job can affect you, now and in the future."

There are people out there working to make your work environment safer and healthier.

Questions of the Week:
How can OSHA better reach teen and immigrant populations in order to educate them about their rights and responsibilities on the job? What other population groups within the workforce may be slipping through the cracks, as well? How is the way that OSHA reaches your peer group different than how they would reach others? Where can teens go to get more information about keeping safe on the job? Do teens typically seek out this information? Do adults? Why or why not? What resources are available in your community?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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