Causes of youth related injuries and illness

There are a number of reasons why young workers, particularly those in their first year of employment, are more likely to be injured at work and hospitalised than any other age group. The main reasons are:

  • Inexperience

    Young workers may be required to perform tasks they are not familiar with, sometimes in unfamiliar work environments. Tasks become more dangerous if the young worker is unaware of the risks and has had limited or no training. Even when they understand the risks, they may not know how to protect themselves and their workmates.

  • Inadequate supervision

    Young workers with little or no supervision in their workplace may have to make decisions about issues with which they have had no experience. The likelihood of injuries or illness occurring is increased where dangerous equipment or substances are used and where safe work practices have not been adopted.

  • Uninformed about rights (and responsibilities)

    Australian studies have found that young workers are usually unaware of their rights, of the correct amount of pay they should receive, of the role of the unions, and of workplace anti-discrimination laws. They may also not have the confidence to speak up about workplace health and safety issues that affect them for fear of looking incapable or losing their job.
    Unions have a role in informing members of their rights and responsibilities. However, union membership is low in industries where young people tend to work (eg. hospitality and retail) and only one in ten young workers belong to unions. Among casual employees union membership has plummeted from 14% to 7% over the last decade.

  • Limited or no training

    Some studies have found that young people enter the workforce with insufficient, or without any teaching and training from school, and receive informal OHS training by a workplace colleague or just by imitating their co-workers' practices. 43% of people who had a work-related injury or illness did not receive any OHS training in the workplace where the injury or illness occurred.
  • 'It can't happen to me' attitude

    Some young people feel they are invulnerable and engage in risk-taking behaviour. These behaviours, when combined with lack of training and/or inadequate supervision, can lead to behaviour that causes injuries and illness.

  • Fatigue

    Young people who combine study and work may have very long 'working' days. The fast pace of work combined with fatigue can impact on their workplace health and safety.

  • Giving a good impression

    When young people start their first job they can be tempted to perform duties which they haven't received training for, to give their employer a good impression. Young people may also be tempted to show peers and co-workers they can perform tasks which they are not prepared for.

  • Temporary employment

    Many young workers have casual and temporary jobs and they may not stay long enough in a job to receive appropriate training. They may also be unwilling to learn how to do a task correctly as they know they will only be employed for a short time. Casual employees also have low bargaining power in terms of their employment and conditions and may be concerned that they will lose the job if they complain. Casual employees are also less likely to be members of unions.

  • Undertaking tasks designed for adults

    Young people are still developing physically, cognitively and emotionally, yet at work they may be asked to undertake tasks that are beyond their current capabilities.

    These tasks will be more dangerous if they have to use equipment designed for adult bodies.

    Often a combination of factors leads to young workers being injured or becoming ill.


What young people think causes injury and illness

Young people tend to believe that injuries happen because the employee is careless - ie. blaming the victim. As a result, injuries and illness may not be reported and the causes of work injuries remain hidden and unrecognised, perpetuating unsafe workplace practices.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). 2006. Work-related Injuries.  Cat. No. 6324.0. Canberra: ABS.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2008. Australian Social Trends, Trade Union Members. Cat. No. 4102.0. Canberra: ABS.

Beharie, N. 2003. New kid on the block. OH&S Canada, 19(4), 30-38.

Mayhew, C. 2005. The OHS "double whammy": Adolescent workers who are precariously employed, The Journal of occupational health and safety, Australia and New Zealand, 21(2), 131-140.