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

A Portrait of Work and OHS Among 15-Year-Olds in Québec


Students aged 15 to 19 are increasingly entering the labour market in Québec (ISQ, 2014a). To prevent workplace injuries, it is important to gather evidence on the characteristics and trajectories of this population group, who are starting to work at a young age. In 2013, the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST) partnered with the Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development (QLSCD) to incorporate a new series of questions on employment and occupational health and safety into the study’s 2013 round. This research report draws a preliminary descriptive portrait of the 15-year-olds targeted by the study who were employed during the school year. More specifically, the study’s objectives are to characterize their labour market entry and the reasons students give for working or not working during the school year; to describe types of employment, numbers of hours worked and work schedules; to define working conditions; to take stock of occupational injuries and the means of increasing awareness about occupational risks; and to compare the levels of involvement in school activities (school engagement) and the health of students who work during the school year with those who do not work.

The findings presented in this report are based on the QLSCD data gathered in the 2013 round, when the youth were approximately 15 years old and when most of them were in Secondary III (grade 9). To achieve the objectives set by the study, bivariate analyses, which involve cross-tabulating various work-related variables (job types, tasks performed, injuries, etc.) with each other or according to gender, were performed. The data were weighted to make it possible to generalize the results for students born in Québec in the late 1990s. Furthermore, the survey’s complex sampling plan was considered in the calculation of the accuracy of the estimates and the production of statistical tests (Chi-square test with Satterthwaite adjustment, difference of proportions test, mean difference test).

In the 2013 round, a sizable proportion of youth aged approximately 15 (41%) worked during the school year. While the main reason they gave for working was to increase financial independence, other reasons related to their social development were mentioned, such as wanting to gain experience, to develop a sense of responsibility or to increase their autonomy. Interestingly, almost half of the young people who were not working said that they would like to work.

Already by age 15, occupational profiles differed according to gender, with proportionately more girls performing odd jobs (52% versus 30%) while boys worked more often for an employer or for a family business (52% versus 28%). Boys thus appear to enter the “formal” job market more rapidly than girls; a market with better supervision in terms of working conditions and occupational health and safety.

Employment is not necessarily stable throughout the school year, with 29% of the youth who had worked during the school year not holding a job in the month preceding the survey. Among youth who had done only odd jobs in the month before the survey, babysitting was a common activity for girls (89.9%), and for nearly half of the boys (45.6%). When young people worked for an employer or for a family business, both boys and girls held a variety of positions. For these youth, almost 80% had worked less than 10 hours a week. The average number of hours worked varied according to the type of position held, but also according to the types of tasks performed. Moreover, more than half of the employed 15 year olds targeted by the QLSCD were able to work during the week, either before or after school.

Although the numbers of hours worked are low, the work environment to which young people are exposed is not exempt from physical demands. In general, boys are exposed to more physical demands than girls and more of them are subject to specific demands requiring physical effort. The study revealed a link between having been injured or almost injured over the past month and being exposed to physical demands among the young people who had worked for an employer or a family business. In fact, a proportionally higher number of youth exposed to four or more demands were more likely to have been injured or almost injured than others (45% versus 22%; data not given). Almost 21.3% of the youth who were working in the month before the survey reported having been injured or having come close to being injured. As well, 37.4% reported having experienced pain often or all the time in at least one part of their body (back, neck, legs/feet, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands) after work. However, a large proportion of youth (80%) stated that their co-workers helped them in the performance of their tasks, suggesting that their work environments were conducive to mutual assistance.

The data gathered and the comparative analyses revealed no difference between students who were working and those who were not in terms of their school engagement and perception of health status. However, the findings showed that the youth who worked were exposed to a range of demands, which suggests that prevention efforts should be directed toward work environments to ensure that they have the fewest possible risks and to provide sufficient OHS training to ensure that the educational pathways and health of youth are not negatively impacted by workplace accidents.

The results of this research suggest a few avenues of action for students, their parents, stakeholders and employers. While students who work are considered as being at less risk of employment injuries than youth who are no longer in school, the research results underscore the importance of carrying out prevention activities in the workplaces where many students are employed.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
  • Élise Ledoux
  • Pascale Prud'homme
Research Project: 2014-0032
Online since: March 30, 2016
Updated date: May 18, 2016
Format: Text