IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Youth in high school and college who combine studies and work – An investigation of working conditions and OHS


The young people entering the Quebec labour market are getting younger and younger. Yet, of the existing studies on youth and OSH, few focus on workers between the ages of 15 and 19. Meanwhile, from 1976 to 2005 the participation rate of these young workers increased from 43.7% to 51.8%. Moreover, the proportion of young people aged 15 to 19 who work while going to school has almost doubled over the last thirty years.

The Central and Regional Data Warehouse (Dépôt de données central et régional, DDCR) of the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail du Québec (CSST, Quebec’s occupational health and safety commission) has shown that during the 2000-2007 period 21,963 workers aged 18 or younger received compensation. As for the seriousness of the employment injuries, on average 158 workers aged 18 or younger were victims of serious occupational injury each year, to the point where they suffered from permanent after-effects. This represents 5.8% of the injuries identified during this period among workers in this age group.

The present research project had three objectives: provide a portrait of work and OSH conditions among young people at the secondary and college levels; identify factors related to various health indicators (perceived overall health, psychological distress, fatigue and sleep duration) known to be associated with OSH risks and, lastly, provide a portrait of work accidents and accident-reporting among college students.

The data analyzed in the project come from the 2008 interregional survey conducted by ÉCOBES (Research and Transfer Section) at the Cégep de Jonquière, using three representative samples of high school students in the National Capital region (n = 1420), the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region (n = 1452) and the Laurentians (n = 1039), in addition to a non-probability sample of college students from the Laurentians (n = 394). The pupils and students contacted answered a self-administered questionnaire including questions on the job they occupied, the number of hours they worked, the organizational and physical work environment and the OSH training provided. Also, various indicators of academic success and health were documented.

At the high school level, nearly half of the students aged 12-14 years (48.3%) and two thirds of those aged 15-19 (62.9%) held paid employment during the academic year, while at the college level more than four out of five students (82.2%) held paid employment. During the month preceding the survey, nearly a third of the high school students (32.7%) had devoted more than 20 hours a week to their job. As expected, the young people worked mainly in the sales and service sector. However, for about one in six (15.8%) of the very young workers aged 12 to 14 years, the primary sector (agriculture and landscaping) represented their gateway to the world of work. In addition, the 12-to-14-year-olds were, proportionally, just as likely as the 15-to-19-year-olds to be exposed to organizational constraints, such as high psychological demand, less latitude in decision making and poor social support. Also, the 12-to-14-year-olds were, proportionally, just likely as the 15-to-19-year-olds to be exposed to 10 or more physical constraints in their work.

There were numerous analyses carried out among student workers to identify factors associated with a more negative perception of their general health, a high level of psychological distress, the presence of many signs of fatigue and a shorter duration of nocturnal sleep. These analyses revealed that sex, a more negative perception of one’s family status, the conflict between work and study, a high accumulation of repetitive movements and equipment handling, as well as a history of workplace accidents, constituted significant variables. Finally, about one high school student in seven (15.2%) and more than one college student in ten (10.2%) reported having sustained an occupational injury within the 24 months preceding the survey.

To our knowledge, this is the first study documenting work and OSH conditions among young workers 12 to 14 years of age. A substantial proportion of them are exposed very early in life to various forms of work intensity, be it in terms of weekly hours of work, consecutive days of work or the organizational and physical constraints of work.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
  • Luc Laberge
  • Élise Ledoux
  • Julie Auclair
  • Marco Gaudreault
Research Project: 0099-8820
Online since: April 08, 2014
Format: Text