Safety of Young Workers
What should I do to protect the safety of young workers?
Firstly it helps to know exactly who we are talking about and how safety law defines children and young people.
A Young Person is anyone under 18 years of age.
A Child is anyone who has not yet reached the official age at which they may leave school, just before or just after their 16th birthday – often referred to as the Minimum School Leaving Age.
Young people are particularly vulnerable in work environments where there is poor or inadequate occupational safety and health provision. Frequently they lack experience, physical and psychological maturity and awareness of health and safety issues. They also lack skills and training and may be unaware of their employer’s duties and their own rights and responsibilities. They may lack confidence in raising safety issues, or they may be over-enthusiastic in their desire to please. Young people may also be susceptible to more slowly developing occupational health problems.
Employers often fail to correctly manage this vulnerability and don’t provide young people with adequate training, supervision and safeguards. They frequently give them work that is not appropriate. As a result some young people have to live with the consequences of accidents and damage to their health for the rest of their lives and young lives may be sadly cut short.
Every workplace should have a good health and safety management system. Within that system particular attention should be paid to the vulnerability of young workers and new starters. Regardless of age, employers’ duties to their workers include:
Identifying hazards and carrying out risk assessments, including not only young people working full-time but also casual labour, for example young people hired to help at week-ends or school holidays and those on vocational or work experience.
Putting in position arrangements for ensuring safety and health at work, based on the risk assessment, including any special arrangements for young workers or new recruits. This also includes arrangements with work experience, placement and vocational training organisers.
Providing the necessary management duties and ensuring that supervisors have the competence and time to carry them out.
Identifying any special measures to meet the requirements of vulnerable individuals such as prohibiting them from using dangerous equipment.
Providing young people with clear, easily understood information and training on the possible risks they face in their jobs, particularly when young people are recruited and following any change of job or changes in the workplace.
Consulting with young workers and their representatives on safety and health matters.
SPECIAL PROTECTION FOR UNDER-18’s
For under-18-year-olds more specific regulations apply covering restrictions about their exposure to hazards and limits on their working hours.
- As a general rule under-18’s must not be allowed to carry out tasks which:
- Exceed their physical or mental capabilities.
- Expose them to substances which are toxic or cause cancer.
- Expose them to radiation.
- Involve extreme heat, noise or vibration.
- Involve risks that they are unlikely to recognise or avoid because of their lack of experience or training or their insufficient attention to safety.
Those under 18 but over the minimum school leaving age can carry out these tasks under very special circumstances where the work is indispensable for their vocational training; the work is performed under the supervision of a competent person; or, the risks are reduced to the lowest level possible. Young workers should not be allowed to work where a significant risk remains, despite all efforts having been taken to control it.
There are also restrictions on the working hours of young workers and they are not typically allowed to work nights. Young people are also allowed more general rest periods than other workers.
Training and Supervision
Young people need good advice, information and supervision as well as suitable, safe and healthy jobs. They also need training in specific hazards related to the job. Training should also cover what young people should do to protect themselves and what to do if they think something is unsafe, including whom to go to for advice, what to do in an emergency if there is an accident, or if first aid is needed and their responsibilities to cooperate with their employers on safety.
Young people are also likely to need more supervision than adults. This includes students on work experience and new recruits. Employers should therefore identify supervision needs and ensure that supervisors are adequately trained in risks and prevention measures associated with young people.
There is evidence that young workers are receptive to information about workplace health and safety and are prepared to act when they know about potential hazards and where to get help.
Employers should do more than just meet their legal obligations. They should lead by example and demonstrate a real commitment to health and safety. Measures to keep young people safe will help to protect all employees and will enhance employers’ reputations,helping them attract the most talented recruits. Where possible, for example specific initiatives should be developed.
Young people are most vulnerable in their first few weeks and months of employment. So too are other new workers, irrespective of age. Employers should review their risk assessments to ensure that young workers have proper induction, adequate training, supervision, safeguards and appropriate work. Partnership, participation and preparing young people for the world of work are key to ensuring a safe start and a healthy future both for young workers and businesses.