Table of Contents

  • During the Swedish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers 2013, youth issues have been a recurrent theme in the various activities undertaken. In preparation for the conference Young Workers’ Working Environment held in October, this report, giving an overview of the conditions in the different Nordic countries, was commissioned. The similarities and differences between our countries is an important source of learning and inspiration. There is great value in having these similarities and differences presented in this way.

  • This report was commissioned by the Swedish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers for labour (MR-A) and the Nordic Institute for Advanced Training in Occupational Health (NIVA) acted as facilitator and party for action. The report was written at the National Research Centre for the Working Environment (NRCWE) in Denmark by senior scientific researcher Pete Kines in cooperation with scientific research assistant Elisabeth Framke (NRCWE), senior specialist Anne Salmi from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, and librarian/cybrarian Elizabeth Bengtsen (NRCWE).

  • The objective of this report is to provide important new insight into understanding and preventing young (aged 15–24) workers’ occupational safety and health (OSH) risks in the Nordic countries. The report provides a short overview of the context of youth employment, young worker legislation, the sectors young workers are employed in, the OSH hazards they are exposed to and the nature of their injuries and health outcomes. Some of the negative effects of exposure to OSH risks are immediate, whereas other effects may first be detectable when a person is in their 30’s or 40’s. Although the risk of non-fatal injury is 40–50% greater for young workers, the injuries are often less servere than for older workers.

  • Young workers are at a highly formative stage in their life, as they continue through much physical, cognitive and psychosocial development. Their motivations for working vary greatly and many young workers are still enjoying “being-young,” yet at the same time many are in a transition period from “school to work,” and “youth to adulthood,” As active parts of the labour market, young workers are a vulnerable group, at high risk of occupational injury and exposure to substances and working conditions that can result in occupational disease and health problems later on in life.

  • The focus of this chapter is on defining each of the key terms used in the title of this report, from the definition of “young” and “worker”, to “risks” and “Nordic”.

  • Actions towards the prevention of occupational injuries and disease are initiated at many levels, including legal frameworks and agreements. In addition to OSH legislation regarding workers in general, there are a number of international Conventions, directives and national legislation directed towards ensuring a safe and healthy working environment for young workers under the age of 18. With employment of young workers under the age of 18, legislation often requires that with the planning, organization, and performance of work, employers must take into account the youth's age, maturity/development and health (physical and mental capacity), lack of experience and knowledge of risks, as well as the work’s influence on schooling and other forms of education.

  • Recent Census and Labour Force Survey data (OECD.org) for 2012 show great differences in the employment rates of young people aged 15–19 in the Nordic countries, varying from 19% in Sweden to 59% in Iceland (Table 2). The employment rates are generally higher for young women aged 15–19 than for men aged 15–19. The rates for 20–24 year olds are more similar, ranging from 58% in Sweden to 72% in Iceland. In terms of the percentage of total labour force employment (age 15–64) in 2012, young workers (15–24) account for 10–17% of employment: Denmark (♂14%, ♀15%), Finland (♂12%, ♀12%), Iceland (♂16%, ♀17%), Norway (♂13%, ♀15%) and Sweden(♂10%, ♀12%).

  • As noted in chapter 2.3, there are a number of challenges in estimating the absolute prevalence of health outcomes (underreporting, lack of accurate exposure data, etc.) for young workers. Due to the delayed (latent) effects of health outcomes, injury studies of young workers are more in focus. Even when young men and women are employed to do the same job, in practice, the tasks they carry out can often be gender-segregated – with males often being exposed to greater OSH risks. Women, on the other hand, work more often than men in jobs involving fast repetitive motion – which can result in both acute and latent musculoskeletal disorders.

  • Work provides young people with opportunities to develop meaningful and marketable job skills, autonomy, responsibility, punctuality, competence and independence, build character and self-esteem, while at the same time allowing for vocational development and opportunities for vocational exploration. Yet young workers are still a very heterogeneous group in terms of their various stages of physical, cognitive and psychosocial development, balancing school/further education, as well as in their motivations for working, amount of time they work, types of work/jobs/tasks, and the way they spend their money (personal items, savings, education, family).

  • Two of the main work organisation factors contributing to increased OSH risks for young workers are working conditions associated with shift-work and non-permanent work.

  • Workplace characteristics can also impact on young workers’ OSH risks varying from factors associated with company size, to age-segregation, OSH introduction, training and supervision, as well as the availability of risk protection. Young workers not only have to adjust to the social climate at the workplace – the physical environment and equipment/tools are often designed for adults, which can increase the OSH risks for young workers.

  • Work characteristics involve both physical and psychosocial risk exposures. Tolerance levels may be quite different for each individual, yet in terms of e.g. physical maturity level, young workers may be at greater risk of damage to the spine as the strength in the muscles is still developing, and bones do not fully mature until around the age of 25.

  • Young workers (aged 15–24) are at a vulnerable and dynamic stage in their life, “being young,” yet in a transition phase from school to work, and “youth to adulthood,” bringing with it many challenges, and which intensifies their OSH risks compared to older workers. The introduction and mastery of work tasks and their accompanying risks are all part of a risk socialisation process. Combining non-permanent work with schooling and other education pursuits means that working conditions provide additional challenges in the formal and informal risk socialisation process – often with higher work pace and less qualified and effective supervision. In addition, young workers’ physical statures often have to adapt to working conditions designed for adults, such as working surface heights, the physical design of tools and equipment, and personal protective equipment. All of which may require the young worker to work in awkward and strenuous postures, and with ineffective or even hazardous equipment.

  • The following is a selection of institutions in the Nordic countries that deal with the OSH of young workers:

  • Selected reports from the Nordic Council of Ministers: