A young worker is anyone under the age of 18 in the workplace. Young workers may be involved in your business as an employee, for work experience or as an apprentice. And there's no reason why young workers can't be employed and be a great asset to your team. But there are a few extra things to think about to keep them safe.
Employers owe all of their employees, from the youngest to the oldest, a duty of care. No one should be hurt at work. And employers have legal responsibilities to make sure they keep all staff and anyone else who may be affected by their work activities, safe from harm. So far as is reasonably practicable.
But there are some extra legal responsibilities when it comes to young people at work.
The hazards a young person is facing in your workplace might be the same as everyone else. So why should they be treated any differently? Well, it mostly comes down to 3 factors:
Lack of experience. This could be the young persons first time in the workplace. Particularly for school leavers or those on work experience. And the first time you do something, you're not always that good at it. Practice makes perfect, and you get better with experience.
Lower maturity. People tend to mature as they get older. Not always. But especially for young people at work, they may be more vulnerable to peer pressure and unsafe behaviours. Because they simply don't know any better, and they want to try and fit in.
Unaware of dangers. The rest of your team might have years of training, experience and exposure to their work environment. The job they do has become second nature. Just because someone has finished school, doesn't mean they have finished learning. A young person may not have an awareness of the hazards and risks they will be exposed to at work.
So when you're introducing a young person to a workplace, remember to look at it with fresh eyes. What might seem obvious to you and the rest of your team, might not be so clear to someone who has never been in this type of environment before.
- An employer shall not employ a young person unless he has, in relation to risks to the health and safety of young persons, made or reviewed [a risk] assessment...
- In making or reviewing the assessment, an employer who employs or is to employ a young person shall take particular account of—
- the inexperience, lack of awareness of risks and immaturity of young persons;
- the fitting-out and layout of the workplace and the workstation;
- the nature, degree and duration of exposure to physical, biological and chemical agents;
- the form, range, and use of work equipment and the way in which it is handled;
- the organisation of processes and activities;
- the extent of the health and safety training provided or to be provided to young persons; and
- risks from agents, processes and work listed in the Annex to Council Directive 94/33/EC(1) on the protection of young people at work.
It might seem like a lot of extra requirements, but of course, you are already managing risks in your workplace. Basically, the law says you need to assess the risks to young workers.
Remember step 2 of the 5 steps to risk assessment. Decide who might be harmed and how.
You might want to carry out a separate young person risk assessment. Or, you might not even need an additional risk assessment, particularly in a low-risk environment, like an office. But you should review your existing risk assessments, and take into account the risk factors for young people.
Remember to consider "the inexperience, lack of awareness of risks and immaturity of young persons". It's a legal requirement.
And what about high-risk work? Like a construction site, workshop, warehouse or factory? Well, since the risks are greater, so are the consequences if things go wrong. This doesn't mean that young workers can't be employed, but it does mean the hazards must be carefully controlled.
You may, particularly for higher-risk environments, need to consider specific factors that must be managed for young people, including exposure to radiation, noise and vibration, toxic substances, or extreme temperatures.
But don't treat all young workers the same. People mature at different rates. And for one young person, this may be their first experience of a workplace, but another may have worked before. When assessing risk to a young person, consider if they have any additional needs, and what their level of maturity and understanding is. This will help you to decide what steps to put in place to keep them safe.
The control measures to ensure young persons are kept safe might include:
Young workers are still growing and developing, in body and mind. Some work activities may not be suitable for a young person. Particularly if it might involve work beyond their physical capabilities. Or even beyond their psychological capabilities.
For example, it may not be safe for a young person to work alone. Their lack of experience and awareness could put them in harm's way. They won't have anyone there to help and guide them, and check they are following the correct procedures. And they might not know when to reach out for help.
Some of your work might involve age restrictions, like operating certain equipment and machinery. Or work involving radiation or harmful toxic substances where exposure levels need to stay within legal limits.
But, in many cases, young people are not at any greater risks from hazards in the workplace than adults. And you will probably have most of the necessary control in place already, within your current risk assessment and management processes. With young workers, you might just need to be extra thorough in making them aware of the dangers, and experience will come with time.
Always assess the work first. Check what changes need to be made got younger workers. And, proceed only if it safe to do so, with any additional control measures in place.
Check out the young persons risk assessment template to get started keeping young workers safe.