Young Persons at work – 5 ways to reduce risk of harm

20 September 2016

At a time of the year when many young people will be entering work for the first time, either as full time employees, work experience placements or apprentices, it’s important that employers understand the additional risks as well as control measures that may need to be put in place in order to protect them.

Who should be considered as a “young person”?

When it comes to Health & Safety, it’s important to understand what is meant by the term young person and the difference between young persons and a child.

A ‘young person’ is anyone under the age of 18 and a ‘child’ is anyone who is under the minimum school leaving age (MSLA), which at the time of writing occurs in the school year in which they turn 16 years old.

The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations is the main legislation that protects young persons from risks to their Health & Safety in the work place. It places particular focus on controlling the additional risks that young people face due to their lack of experience, lack of awareness of current and potential risks, and the fact that they are not fully matured.

What should you have in place?

In order to reduce the Health & Safety risks to young persons at work, you should consider the following:

1. A young person’s risk assessment:

Carrying out a young person’s risk assessment will help properly prepare for the employment of any young person and protect their Health & Safety. Whist creating a specific risk assessment for a young person is not a strict legal requirement, employers should at least review the current risk assessments that they have in place and document additional control measures that are specific to young workers. This should be carried out prior to a young person commencing work.

James Macdonald, Citation Health & Safety Consultant says, “Conducting a young person’s risk assessment is best thought of as simply building on top of current risk assessments to allow for people who are both new to the working environment, and not yet equipped or ready to work to the same criteria as adult workers”.

2. Continuous training, supervision and consultation:

Young workers are more at risk of workplace accidents, due to unfamiliar practices and environments so induction training and continuous “on-the-job” training is key. They should also be properly supervised by a competent adult, especially while conducting new or higher risk activities allowing for the monitoring of young workers’ actions and development in the job, so the employer has a full understanding of their capabilities and training effectiveness.

Consultation meetings should take place regularly between young workers and a company Health & Safety representative or manager, providing the opportunity for Health & Safety issues to be raised by the worker. It is also recommended that employers tests, or set tasks for their young workers to ensure their understanding of the job.

3. Control exposure to physical risks, biological and chemical agents:

Young people must not be exposed to high levels of radiation, noise, vibration, extreme heat or cold, or toxic and dangerous substances. The likelihood of exposure to these risks is often higher for young people as they commonly do ‘hands-on’ work and may not be fully aware of the risk of exposure.

However, young people can carry out work involving these risks if:

– The work is necessary for their training and/or is properly supervised by a competent person
– The potential for exposure is considered within the specific risk assessment and, as far as is reasonably practicable, reduced to the lowest level possible.

At all times, levels of exposure should remain below legal and/or Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs). Employers should also seek to control a young person’s work that could be beyond their physical capacity, such as heavy lifting, or psychological capacity, which may include complicated, stressful or upsetting work.

A child must never carry out work involving these risks, whether permanently employed or under training, e.g. work experience. Any risks that are present during their employment should be communicated to their parents or guardians.

4. Control of work equipment:

Currently under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER), there is no stipulated age at which someone is allowed to operate workplace equipment, but it is considered that people under the age of 18 often lack the maturity, experience and training to safely operate machinery such as forklift trucks, woodworking machinery and lifting equipment. Therefore, young people should not operate equipment or carry out high risk activities without suitable training, experience, supervision and ability.

5. Control of tasks and workloads

Employers should consider the task, workload and working environment of a young person. These factors should be formally assessed and controlled by methods such as regular breaks, job diversity, only day-time working, avoiding strenuous tasks, suitable training, PPE (where needed), and supervision. Young people should not work late at night or through the night, although exceptions for those working in certain industries, such as agriculture and catering, can be made.

Stress is common amongst young workers, especially those in environments such as call centres, and the risks associated with stress should be controlled by monitoring the pace and amount of work a young person is expected to undertake.

What happens when things go wrong?

The requirement for employers to assess the additional risks faced by young persons, in order to protect their Health & Safety, is illustrated in the following case study.

A business owner was sentenced to eight months in prison and ordered to pay £150,000 following the death of a 16-year-old apprentice. The oversized overalls, which were provided for the worker, became caught in a steel cutting machine, dragging him in and causing lethal head injuries. The apprentice had only worked at the company for a month at the time of the accident, and at the sentencing, the judge stated that the worker was untrained, inexperienced, not qualified and almost entirely unsupervised, which led to the resulting accident.

Need a helping hand?

If you would like support in managing young persons in your workplace, 24/7 advice and a variety of online tools, call 0345 844 1111 or contact us.

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