INTRODUCTION: Even though the majority of youth in the U.S. work, and workers under the age of 18 are seriously injured on the job at higher rates when compared to adults, most adolescents lack instruction on workplace safety and health.
METHOD: This qualitative study examines the extent to which selected U.S. school districts provide workplace safety and health instruction to students and explores the factors that influence districts' decision to adopt a free, foundational occupational safety and health (OSH) curriculum.
RESULTS: Results from key informant interviews conducted with a purposive sample of 34 school administrators revealed that only a third of the districts have at least 75% of their students receive some instruction on workplace safety and health, while 15% indicated they provide no instruction on this topic. District staff who indicated that they provide OSH instruction stated that it is most often taught through career and technical education (CTE; 65%) and/or health classes (26%). They believed the benefits of providing this instruction include assisting students to get jobs (38%) and helping students learn about safety (32%), while competing demands (44%) and time constraints (41%) were identified as barriers to providing OSH education to students.
CONCLUSIONS: Given the importance of work to teens and their increased risk of work injury, interested stakeholders-including parents, teachers, employers, and the public health community-should promote the inclusion of workplace safety and health instruction in U.S. secondary schools. Practical Applications: This research fills a gap in current knowledge about the extent to which OSH is currently taught within U.S. secondary schools, enumerates barriers and facilitators to the inclusion of workplace safety and health instruction in schools, presents a free, foundational curriculum in workplace safety and health, and provides directions for future research on the vital role schools can play in preparing the future workforce for safe and healthy employment.