How young workers view workplace injuries

In brief

  • Policy-makers and researchers should be more sensitive to how young workers are being socialized to accept certain risks as a reasonable part of their everyday work.
  • They also need to be sensitive to the power relations within workplaces that dismiss young workers’ concerns, or that lead teens to remain silent about concerns with their working conditions.

Published: January 2007

Why was this study done?

Teenagers, and particularly young males, have higher work injury rates than adults. As a result, there are many work safety education programs aimed at preventing injury in young workers. However, few studies to date have explored the everyday understanding and experiences of workplace health risks among young workers. In this study, researchers explored how young workers interpret and experience risks in the workplace, and how gender has an impact on these experiences.

How was the study done?

Eight focus groups — four with males and four with females — were conducted to generate stories from young workers about their work experiences and to explore work-related issues. Thirty males and 28 females, aged 16 to 18 years, participated in the focus groups. All were still in high school and worked in a wide range of workplaces. Transcripts of the sessions were analyzed for key themes.

What did the researchers find?

These young workers viewed workplace injuries as "part of the job," specifically for injuries that didn’t require medical attention, such as burns, cuts or scrapes. There were several reasons behind this viewpoint. These workers felt they lacked control to improve the conditions of their work. Also, injuries happened often and were usually not severe. The workers generally did not think these problems were of interest, in terms of safety, to their managers. Females tended to report that their concerns about working conditions were disregarded. Males indicated that they chose not to complain in order to appear mature among their coworkers.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

Participants represented a broad range of workplaces. The focus group approach was ideal to generate group discussion to learn about how young workers understand risks in these workplaces. However, the study did not include teens who dropped out of high school or who had injuries serious enough to require medical attention.