Young worker injury – it’s the job that matters

In terms of injury risk, the type of job or workplace matters more than the nature of the young workers themselves.

Published: April 10, 2006

Why are young workers at a higher risk of workplace injury? Studies have shown that teenagers are twice as likely as older workers to be injured on the job. When these injuries are serious, they can have long-term implications both for the individual’s health and subsequent work and the health of society as a whole.Many risk factors were thought to contribute to this elevated risk including age, developmental level and risk-taking behaviour. But a new Institute for Work & Health (IWH) systematic review suggests it might not be the characteristics of the young worker that matter most, but the workplace itself. You often read and hear that young workers are more likely to get injured because of attributes related to being young, says IWH Scientist Dr. Curtis Breslin, who led the systematic review. Our review set out to understand exactly what individual, job and workplace factors are associated with work injuries and illness among young people 12 to 24 years of age.

The review included 46 relevant studies that assessed the evidence on risk and protective factors for teenaged and young adult workers. A risk factor was defined as a characteristic of an individual person or the work performed that was associated with the increased likelihood of a work injury. We found that when it comes to injury risk, the type of job or workplace mattered more than the nature of the young workers themselves, says Breslin. There was consistent evidence that increased exposure to work hazards and perceived work overload were associated with a higher injury risk among young workers.

Although developmental factors, such as risk-taking behaviour, are often cited as a reason for higher injury risk for young workers, the review did not find any studies that examined this factor. Breslin says more research is needed to provide further insight and clarity into this and other risk factors studied. At the same time, he believes the review did generate findings that can inform evidence-based prevention of injuries among young workers. Our results suggest work-related factors should be a priority for workplace parties. Future interventions, programs and policies aimed at reducing youth injury should target these factors, he says.