MN Construction Sites Too Dangerous For Teens, Report Says

04 Feb, 2020 Liz Carey


Minneapolis, MN ( – While Minnesota’s construction industry is looking for more high school students to go into the construction workforce, the state’s labor department says construction sites are too dangerous for underage workers.

A labor report issued by the Minn., Department of Labor said workers under the age of 18 are “routinely injured” while working on construction sites in Minnesota. Though state law forbids minors from working construction jobs “on or about” construction sites, the labor department suggested that teens interested in the construction industry could get training in controlled environments instead.

The department said injuries result not just in teens not having access to proper training, but in the teens themselves.

Active construction sites are dangerous work environments, as exemplified by the thousands of workers who died on construction sites in 2018. “Training middle school and high school students on an active construction site would mean placing them in a hazardous environment while training them on highly technical skills using dangerous tools, equipment and machinery,” the report said. “In addition, their physical development, hormonal changes and lack of mature judgment make youth particularly vulnerable to injuries while performing strenuous activities and tasks using tools and equipment designed for adults and in circumstances requiring mature judgment about hazards and risks. Efforts to protect youth from injuries by limiting the tasks they may perform on construction sites have proved unsuccessful.”

The report said that even though state and federal laws prohibit young people from working on construction job sites, they still do, and they still get injured.

“While federal child labor laws and laws in other states include such limitations, data about injuries and fatalities indicate that despite those limits, youth are regularly injured while performing construction work,” the report said. “Even in Minnesota, where children under the age of 18 are prohibited from working on or about active construction sites, youth suffer construction-related injuries despite those prohibitions.”

The report recommended that student training: 

  1. Require training be provided in a controlled environment, using simulator equipment and virtual training when possible.
  2. Require OSHA 10-hour safety training, first aid training, and safety and health training that is integrated into the training for specific skills.
  3. Require the provision of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensure it fits properly and is worn.
  4. Establish and require compliance with safety and health rules, including rules that training must be free from distractions, such as cellphones.
  5. Ensure individualized attention and supervision by conducting training in small groups and requiring a low ratio of youth to instructors.
  6. Require instructors to be qualified to provide training in the skills to be learned, including how to properly use tools, equipment, machinery, chemicals and materials used in the program, to be trained in occupational safety and health and instructing youth.

Jessica Looman, executive director of the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council, said giving jobs to young people on construction sites is dangerous regardless of the work they perform. Construction sites in and of themselves, she said, pose a dangerous environment where falls, trips and slips can lead to serious injury.

“The construction site is a sophisticated and sometimes dangerous workplace,” she told Finance and Commerce Magazine. “We don’t need children to build our buildings in Minnesota. We need children to learn.”

According to the report, between 1999 and 2018, 186 underage workers filed workers’ compensation claims for injuries on construction sites. Additionally, the report said that Minnesota’s construction industry saw more than 70 worker fatalities in the construction industry, resulting in a fatality rate of 7.4 per every 100,000 full-time workers. The state’s construction industry also had the highest injury and illness rate, at nearly five cases per every 100 FTE.

But construction industry members say there is a need to get kids trained in construction industry jobs so they can enter the workforce – a workforce they say is desperately in need of more workers.

“Stakeholders who perceive a workforce shortage believe exposing youth to and providing them training in a skilled trade is a way to attract them to careers in the skilled trades,” the report said. “Some industry and education representatives believe there is a skilled trades workforce shortage in Minnesota. ‘It exists,’ said one industry representative of the workforce shortage. ‘I know this because I’ve been doing work in [the] workforce arena for a number of years now. ... It’s a very real phenomenon and the trades and the construction industry have ... a real challenge ahead of them.’”


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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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