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Protecting Youth at Work: Health, Safety, and Development of Working Children and Adolescents in the United States
1997; Castillo et al., 1994; Dunn and Runyan, 1993; Suruda and Halperin, 1991).
NIOSH reports that for the 3-year period from 1990 through 1992, the rate of fatal occupational injury among 16-to 17-year-olds was 3.51 per 100,000 full-time-equivalent workers (Castillo and Malit, 1997). This rate is only slightly lower than that for older workers (3.87 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers age 20–24, 3.95 for ages 25–34, 3.93 for ages 35–44, and 4.56 for ages 45–54), which is cause for concern inasmuch as federal and state labor laws prohibit youngsters from working in the most hazardous jobs. Although violations of these laws are common, employment data suggest that, in general, young people are less likely than adults to work in especially hazardous jobs. Given this pattern, children and adolescents may actually be at higher risk of fatal injury than adults in similar work.
EXPOSURES TO POTENTIAL HEALTH HAZARDS
Although recent research has contributed to understanding work-related injuries suffered by young people, little is known about the extent to which they incur illnesses from exposures to health hazards—such as toxic chemicals, vibration, noise, and temperature extremes—in the workplace. However, the limited surveys of exposures that are available, plus case reports of acute poisonings, suggest that acute illnesses do occur and do result in the need for medical care. By combining data on the types of jobs and tasks in which young people engage with information from the research on occupational medicine on job-specific exposures for adults, it seems likely that young workers are exposed to a wide variety of health hazards.
Exposures to such hazards may result in immediate illnesses or in illnesses that are not manifest until years after the exposure. Workers' compensation data and employers' illness and injury logs include information about work-related illnesses, but it is well recognized that illnesses are undercounted in these data systems (National Research Council, 1987). Illnesses captured by these systems tend to be those with short latencies and those that have the most visible acute effects. Because the systemic effects of exposures to some chemicals may mimic diseases, their causes may go unrecognized. Pesticide-related illness, for example, may be difficult to distinguish from the flu. Furthermore, the exclusion of agriculture from many