Working Safely: Advice for Teens


Am I at risk of getting hurt at work?

Yes, you may be. Every year about 70 teens in the United States die as a result of injuries at work. An additional 70,000 teens are hurt on the job and have to go to a hospital or emergency department. Teens are often injured on the job because of unsafe equipment, because they were working too fast or under stress or because they didn't have proper safety training or supervision.

What hazards should I watch out for?

It depends on the kind of work you do. Some examples of hazards by type of work are listed below.

Food Service

  • Slippery floors
  • Hot pans, stoves and grills
  • Sharp objects


  • Toxic chemicals in cleaning supplies
  • Blood on discarded needles
  • Human waste


  • Poor computer workstation design (can cause repetitive movement injuries)


  • Heavy lifting
  • Violent crimes (such as robberies)

Are there certain jobs I'm not allowed to do?

Yes. Depending on your age, certain jobs are considered too dangerous for you according to federal labor laws. (These laws don't apply to children working on family farms.)

If you're younger than 18, you are not allowed to:

  • Drive a motor vehicle as a regular part of the job or operate a forklift at any time
  • Operate many types of powered equipment, such as a box crusher, meat slicer or circular saw
  • Work in wrecking, demolition, excavation or roofing
  • Work in mining, logging or a sawmill
  • Work in meat-packing or slaughtering
  • Work where there is exposure to radiation
  • Work where explosives are manufactured or stored

Also, if you're 14 or 15, you may not do the following activities:

  • Bake or cook on the job (except at a serving counter)
  • Operate power-driven machinery (except certain types that pose little hazard, such as those used in offices)
  • Work on a ladder or scaffold
  • Work in warehouses
  • Work in construction, building or manufacturing
  • Load or unload a truck, railroad car or conveyor belt

If you're younger than 14, there are even stricter laws to protect your health and safety.

Are there limits to when and how much I can work?

Federal child labor laws protect 14- and 15-year-olds from working too often, too late or too early. Some states have laws that apply to older teens as well. If you are 16 years old or older, there are no restrictions on your work hours.

14- and 15-Year-Olds Can Work These Hours

Work hours From 7 a.m. to 7. p.m.
  Not during school hours
  From 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. between June 1 and Labor Day
Maximum work hours when school is in session 18 hours a week but not more than:
  3 hours a day on school days
  8 hours a day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays
Maximum work hours when school is not in session 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day

What are my rights?

By law, your employer must provide a safe and healthful workplace that is free of hazards and sexual harassment. Your employer should also provide safety and health training.

You have the right to refuse to work if the job is immediately dangerous to your life or health. If you feel unsafe or think your rights have been violated, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor. Remember, it's illegal for your employer to fire you or punish you for reporting a workplace hazard.

What are my safety responsibilities on the job?

To work safely you should keep the following in mind:

  • Follow all safety rules.
  • Use safety equipment and wear protective clothing when needed.
  • Keep work areas clean and neat.
  • Know what to do in an emergency.
  • Report any health and safety hazards to your supervisor.

Other Organizations


Protecting the Health and Safety of Working Teenagers by H Rubenstein, MR Sternbach, SH Pollack (American Family Physician August 01, 1999,

Adapted from "Are You a Working Teen?" Rockville, Md.: Dept of Health and Human Services, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1997; DHHS (NIOSH) publication no. 97-132.

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/10
Created: 08/99