of the existing systems for gathering data results in significant under-counting of exposures.
Many chronic diseases that are related to work have long latency periods between the first exposure to the hazards and the onset of the disease, and they may also have causes other than hazards in the workplace. As a result, chronic occupational diseases frequently go unrecognized as work-related—for adults as well as youngsters. They certainly are not seen in young workers, either because they do not occur or because they will not be manifest until well into adulthood. Therefore, to address occupational health problems that may affect young people, it is essential to document the nature and extent of their exposures to health hazards in the workplace.
A number of hazardous substances or conditions at work could contribute to subsequent illnesses for young workers. Audiometric testing of vocational agricultural students in Wisconsin found that 57 percent of the students who lived and worked on farms had noise-induced hearing loss, a condition found in only 33 percent of the students who had little or no farm experience (Broste et al., 1989). To protect young people's health and safety, the Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits their working with hazardous agricultural chemicals. Yet in a survey of North Carolina teens, 38 percent of those who worked on farms reported using pesticides or other farm chemicals (Schulman et al., 1997). Similarly, a 1989 survey of migrant farmworkers under the age of 18 found that 10 percent had prepared or applied pesticides. Aside from gloves, no protective equipment was used, and the gloves were made of cloth and therefore inadequate as protection. More than 40 percent had worked in fields still wet with pesticides, in violation of regulations governing the time that must elapse between spraying and reentry by workers, and 40 percent had been sprayed while working in the fields, either directly by crop-dusting planes or indirectly by chemicals drifting from planes or tractors (Pollack et al., 1990). A recent Massachusetts survey, in which an industrial hygienist observed youth working in paid jobs and vocational shops, found young workers exposed to a wide range of potential hazards, including lead and asthma-causing agents in construction, ergonomic stressors in health-care settings, and reproductive hazards in a print shop.2
The paradigm used to establish exposure limits for many health