Summer employment is a great opportunity for teenagers to earn their own money, learn new skills, and take on new responsibilities. But it can also pose a variety of hazards, from back strain and sunburns to cuts and concussions. Hopefully, the injuries will be nothing more than a story to tell by the time school starts again—like the time I was bitten by a kid when I worked as a camp counselor—but some injuries can be quite serious.
Due to their lack of experience, teens are an especially vulnerable part of the workforce. Each summer, the number of teens in the workplace noticeably jumps; between April and July 2017, the number of employed individuals age 16 to 24 years old increased by 1.9 million to 20.9 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Young workers are exposed to a variety of hazards from equipment to unsafe practices, and may not receive the complete safety training they need. Teens working under a manager may receive on-the-job safety training, but other summer jobs, such as yard work for neighbors, may have less formal arrangements.
The following are four common injuries, with strategies for prevention.
Heat exhaustion. This is one of the most common summer job injuries, as it can happen at a wide range of popular outdoor jobs for teens, such as camp counselor, lifeguard, and yard worker. Signs of heat exhaustion include fatigue, headache, rapid heart rate, cramps and confusion, and may warrant a trip to the emergency room to replace lost fluid. To avoid dehydration, teens should:
- Stay well-hydrated (by drinking approximately 20 ounces every few hours, ideally a sports drink that contains electrolytes).
- Avoid drinks with caffeine.
- Wear hats, lightweight clothing in light colors, and sunscreen with SPF of 30+.
- Sunscreen (including waterproof) should be reapplied within an hour of water exposure.
Burns. Teens working at restaurants can sustain burns while cooking or handling food around hot appliances. Wearing protective gloves, aprons and long-sleeved shirts can help avoid burns.
- To treat a burn, run cool water over the burn to temporarily ease the pain, though this should be limited to approximately five minutes to avoid increasing the depth of the burn. Ice can actually worsen pain and burn severity.
- Apply a topical antibiotic (such as Bacitracin) to help prevent infection prior to applying gauze. Directly applying an adherent dressing, such as gauze, to the burn should be avoided.
- Burns that include blistering are signs of a deeper injury and may require prompt medical evaluation. Do NOT pop blisters from burns, as this can increase infection risk.
- Everyone should ensure they are up to date on tetanus vaccine if working in a setting where burns may occur.
Blade injuries. Lawnmowers pose some of the most frightening injuries for summer workers, ranging from scrapes and cuts to more severe injuries such as amputations. Before operating a mower, teens should:
- Wear proper safety equipment, which includes closed-toed shoes, long pants, eye goggles, and hearing protection.
- Check the area that is to be mowed for any debris, including sticks and rocks, as these can become projectiles injuring the operator or bystanders.
- Use extreme caution if attempting to remove any object that the mower might strike.
- Remain vigilant of surroundings, as young children tend to be attracted to mowers.
Strains and Sprains. Muscle strains from lifting heavy objects are another common cause of workplace injuries. Before lifting heavy objects, teens should:
- Stretch, particularly their back muscles.
- Bend at the knee AND the hips when lifting. The upper body should be kept as upright as possible, and use arms, legs, and abdominal muscles to assist in lifting.
- Avoid reliance on a back belt for protection; no evidence exists that they prevent back muscle strains.
If a muscle strain occurs, teens should rest rather than to attempt to continue lifting—this can worsen the injury. Any back injury associated with numbness or tingling in the legs/feet warrants immediate medical attention.
Summer jobs provide a great opportunity for teenagers, and can be safe and fun experiences if the right precautions are taken! For more information, check out the Center for Disease Control's resources for young workers.
For jobs involving driving, teenagers should be reminded to obey all traffic laws and to not drive distracted or aggressively. For more information and tips for safe driving, check out TeenDriverSource.org.
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