While many previous reports describe injuries to adolescents in the workplace, few focus on toxic substance exposures among such injuries. Yet low-skill, entry-level jobs pose a particular hazard of toxic exposure owing to the frequent use of cleaning agents, solvents, and/or other chemicals in carrying out assigned tasks.
To analyze the types and severity of adolescent occupational toxic exposures.
Secondary analysis of calls to a single regional poison control center (PCC).
Massachusetts PCC poisoning consultations between 1991 and 1996.
Children aged 19 years or younger reporting toxic exposures occurring in the workplace.
Of 7024 occupational toxic exposures recorded by the PCC in the 6 years of study, 269 incidents (3.8%) involved adolescents aged 14 to 19 years (median age, 18 years; 124 aged 14-17 years and 145 aged 18-19 years; 65% were male). The most frequently involved agents were cleaning compounds (27.8%); paints, solvents, and glues (9.0%); caustics (8.7%); hydrocarbons (8.7%); and bleaches (7.3%). Of 88 cases (32.7%) in which a worksite was identified, food services (30.7%), automotive services (14.8%), and general retail stores (12.5%) were the most common locations. One hundred fifty-six patients (58.0%) were triaged to an emergency department; 7 were hospitalized. Forty-three subjects (16.0%), 18 who were between the ages of 14 and 17 years and 25 who were aged 18 or 19 years, were judged to have moderate to severe injuries. There were no deaths.
This study confirmed the usefulness of PCC surveillance as a source of information about adolescent toxic exposures occurring in the workplace. The occupational toxic exposures reported here most commonly involved cleaning agents, solvents, paints, caustics, and bleach used in those entry-level jobs most frequently filled by adolescents. We conclude that occupational toxic exposures are an underrecognized adolescent injury, and that PCC experience can be used to fill a gap in the surveillance of such workplace-associated events.