Fatal injuries to teenage construction workers in the US

Am J Ind Med. 2003 Nov;44(5):510-4. doi: 10.1002/ajim.10304.


Background: The construction industry is second only to agriculture in the annual number of fatal injuries in workers less than 18 years of age. We examined fatal injury reports for youth and adult workers to determine risk factors for injury and applicability of existing child labor regulations.

Methods: The US Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) investigation data for fatal work injuries from 1984 through 1998 were reviewed with respect to type of event, employer characteristics, and apparent violations of existing child labor laws under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). We also examined whether the employer met exemption criteria for federal enforcement of child labor or OSHA regulations.

Results: The fatality rate for teenage construction workers age 19 and younger was 12.1 per 100,000 per year, slightly less than for adult workers. Teenage workers who were fatally injured were more likely than adults to have been employed at non-union construction firms (odds ratio (OR) = 4.96, P < 0.05), firms with fewer than 11 employees (OR = 1.72, P < 0.05), and their employers were more likely to have been cited by OSHA for safety violations (OR = 1.66, P < 0.05) than for firms which were investigated because of a fatality in an adult worker. Fatalities in teenagers were more likely to occur in special construction trades such as roofing. Among fatalities in workers less than 18 years of age, approximately one-half (49%) of the 76 fatal injuries were in apparent violation of existing child labor regulations. We estimated that in 41 of the 76 cases (54%) the employer's gross annual income exceeded the $500,000 threshold for federal enforcement of child labor laws. Only 28 of 76 cases (37%) were at construction firms with 11 or more employees, which are subject to routine OSHA inspections.

Conclusions: Fatal injuries in teenage construction workers differed from those in adults in that they were more likely to be at small, non-union firms of which a substantial proportion were exempt from federal enforcement of child labor laws and from routine OSHA inspections. Safety programs for young construction workers should include small, non-union construction firms and those in special construction trades such as roofing. We did not identify specific areas for new regulation but the number of fatalities reviewed was small.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / mortality*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data
  • Facility Design and Construction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Industry / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration / statistics & numerical data