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IS A FAST-FOOD JOB A FAST WAY TO GET INJURED?

Dishing up fast food may be hazardous to teenagers' health, according to a workplace study that estimates thousands of youngsters get hurt working at the corner eatery.

The report released Saturday by the Chicago-based National Safe Workplace Institute also chastises the Labor Department for lax enforcement of child labor laws.A Labor Department spokeswoman called the report dishonest. Officials at McDonald's Corp., the largest U.S. fast-food chain and one of the nation's largest employers of teens, also disputed the report's claims, as did Burger King.

The report estimates that of 5.5 million workers ages 12 to 17, some 71,660 were hurt and 139 died in 1990 as a result of their jobs.

Of those, the report says, about 20,000 were hurt in the restaurant industry - primarily working with fast food - as a result of slips and falls, cuts, burns, electrical shock, vehicle accidents, heavy lifting, chemical exposure and sleep loss.

The single largest number of work-related injuries among teenagers occur in food service, the report says.

According to the report, "the fast-food industry typically will hire youngsters off the street and place them in jobs with substantial risk of burns, lacerations and slips and falls with little or no training."

When teenage employees get hurt, fast-food managers often insist they be treated as personal rather than business-related, the report contends.

It also says that fast-food outlets in suburban areas, where cheap adult labor is scarce, routinely violate child labor laws by employing children under age 14 and scheduling employees under 16 to work after 7 p.m. on school nights.

Under federal law, 14- and 15-year-old employees may work no more than three hours on a school day or 18 hours in a school week, and may not work between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. except during the summer, when they may work until 9 p.m.

Burger King is fighting a Labor Department lawsuit that charges the Miami-based chain violated child labor laws by employing teenagers under 16 to work during hours and in occupations that are not permitted.

Labor Department spokeswoman Carol McCain said the report incorrectly says there are just 93 federal child labor inspectors checking 2 million businesses. She said the agency employs 841 inspectors.