Child Labor Research Needs

DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 97-143


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Child Labor Working Team was formed in April 1994 by Dr. Richard Lemen, the former Deputy Director of NIOSH. In his Charge to the Team (Appendix A), Dr. Lemen stated that NIOSH must take an active role in the prevention of work related injuries and illnesses among our Nation’s youth. The mandate for the Team was to assess current research and prevention activities with the goal of identifying research, surveillance, and intervention actions to be undertaken for the prevention of injuries and illnesses that limit the health, well being, or potential of our working youth in this country.

This Special Hazard Review identifies the research needs identified by the Team as of July 1996. The document synthesizes available data and identifies research needs and opportunities for prevention.


The research recommendations in this Special Hazard Review cover the full research spectrum from surveillance through etiologic and intervention research. Considerations of the occupational safety and health of children and adolescents cannot be restricted to the work environment. School, family, and extracurricular activities all influence the safety and health of working children and adolescents. Furthermore, many nonworking children are routinely exposed to hazardous work environments. Consequently, the foci for research and intervention must be diverse.

In identifying research needs, the Team addressed both the formal and informal employment of children for example, children employed informally in family farming and fishing operations. The Team also addressed school based or facilitated work programs (such as vocational and school-to-work programs) and children exposed to occupational hazards in their living environments or in their parents workplaces (some children accompany their parents at work). The Team identified special populations that have specific research or intervention needs: youths with learning disabilities, minority and disadvantaged youths, school dropouts, and children who accompany their parents at work (e.g., migrant and nonmigrant children on farms, and children of immigrants working in sweatshops). Two areas of child labor that the Team acknowledges to be important are not addressed in this report: international child labor and the illicit employment of children in operations such as drug sales, prostitution, and door-to-door sales.


The identification of research needs was shaped by the following complementary goals:

  • To reduce injuries and illnesses resulting from childhood exposures to hazardous work environments
  • To promote positive, encouraging, successful, and healthy introductions to working life
  • To foster knowledge and skills in safety and health that will remain with youths throughout their working lives and enable them to be active participants in shaping their work environments

The Team identified research needs by drawing on (1) the diverse expertise of Team members (Appendix B), (2) research conducted by Team members, and (3) presentations and input from outside experts (Appendix C). The Team explored the following issues: available data, regulatory approaches, school based and facilitated work experience and education, psychosocial aspects of youth employment, issues in agriculture, and perceived research needs of various stakeholders actively involved in youth occupational safety and health issues. All potential stakeholders should be involved to ensure innovative, comprehensive, coordinated approaches to the occupational safety and health of young workers. Future Team efforts will maintain stakeholder involvement as a goal.

Page last reviewed: June 6, 2014