Last reviewed 28 June 2017

There are many benefits to employing young workers, but there are also increased risks to health and safety. Stephen Flounders of System Concepts advises on the effective arrangements employers should have in place.

Introducing young people to the world of work can help them understand the work environment, choose future careers and prepare for employment. Young people are often enthusiastic, determined to succeed and willing to develop their skills and knowledge.

Organisations can benefit from employing young people in several ways. The profile and reputation of the employer may be raised, which could improve staff retention and gives the employer the opportunity to develop its workforce. Similarly, the enthusiasm of young workers can rub off on colleagues and create a great place to work.

But there are also increased risks to health and safety when employing young people. They may be unfamiliar with workplace risks and the behaviours expected of them at work, potentially putting themselves and others in danger. Employers must have effective arrangements in place to ensure the health and safety of their young workers.

Young people and health and safety law

Employers have the same responsibilities for the health, safety and welfare of young workers they employ as they do for other employees.

A young person is anyone under the age of 18. A child is anyone who has not yet reached the official minimum school leaving age (MSLA). Pupils will reach the MSLA in the school year in which they turn 16.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to ensure that young people employed by them are not exposed due to:

  • a lack of experience

  • being unaware of existing or potential risks

  • a lack of maturity.

Employers must consider a range of factors, including the layout of the workplace, how young people will handle work equipment and the extent of health and safety training needed. Employers must also consider whether the work the young person will do:

  • is beyond their physical or psychological capacity

  • involves harmful exposure to substances that are toxic, can cause cancer, can damage or harm an unborn child, or can chronically affect human health in any other way

  • involves harmful exposure to radiation

  • involves risk of accidents that cannot reasonably be recognised or avoided by young people due to their insufficient attention to safety or lack of experience or training

  • has a risk to health from extreme cold, heat, noise or vibration.

A child must never carry out work involving these risks. However, a young person who is not a child can carry out work involving these risks if the work is necessary for their training, is properly supervised by a competent person and the risks are reduced to the lowest level, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employing young workers

Government statistics show that for the three months to January 2017, there were 3.94 million people aged 16 to 24 in work in the UK. Those statistics also show that there were more 16 to 24-year-olds in work during that period than there had been a year earlier.

Work experience programmes are another common way that young people find themselves in work. Work experience has long been a way of introducing young people to work, and is commonly used by schools and colleges as well as private placements arranged directly by parents or guardians and an employer.

Apprenticeships are another way that more young people are finding themselves in work. There were 904,800 people on an apprenticeship in 2015/16, up from 871,000 the year before, according to parliamentary statistics. Of the near 510,000 apprenticeship starts in England in 2015/16, 26% were younger than 19.

Although most people starting an apprenticeship are 19 or older (30% of starters were aged 19-24, and 44% were aged 25 and over, according to the parliamentary statistics), the growing popularity of apprenticeships will increase the number of young people in work. And this is likely to increase further, as the Government aims to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020.

Managing the risks to young workers

Employers can take simple steps to manage the risks to young people at work — it need not be bureaucratic or burdensome. Exactly what an employer needs to do will depend on several factors such as the work to be carried out, any hazards associated with the workplace and any specific needs of the young person. The tips below provide a good starting point to help employers decide what they need to do.

Risk assessments and extra measures

Employers should already be managing the risks in their workplace, and need to assess whether they need to do anything extra when they employ a young person. Although there is no need for an employer to carry out a separate risk assessment specifically for a young person, if they haven’t previously employed a young person they should review their existing risk assessments and take into account any specific factors for young people.

The risk assessment should identify any extra measures that an employer needs to put in place to control the risks to young people. Additional control measures should be proportionate to the level of risk. For example, low-risk environments such as offices and shops may not need to take significant action to protect young workers, however higher-risk environments such as construction sites are likely to need to go to greater lengths.

Information, instruction and training

Many young people are likely to be new to the workplace. They may not be familiar with the risks associated with the job they will be doing, and the risks associated with the working environment. Employers should provide suitable information, instruction and training to enable young people to work without putting themselves and others at risk. The information, instruction and training should be proportionate to the work being carried out, but could include:

  • induction sessions providing information on the risks associated with the job and the workplace

  • briefing sessions on risk assessments and what measures are in place to prevent danger

  • toolbox talks before certain tasks are carried out

  • guidance notes on how to carry out a task safely

  • information on facilities available in the workplace, such as welfare facilities

  • tailored training, including any technical training, specific to the individual young worker.

Supervise the work

Young people are likely to need more supervision than adults. Good supervision will help employers to evaluate the young person’s capabilities and progress in the job, and monitor the effectiveness of the information, instruction and training provided. Good supervision will also help implement safe systems of work and promote a good safety culture.

Consult all relevant people

Employers should consult all relevant people when employing a young person. Good consultation will help the employer identify any specific issues it needs to be aware of, and enables the employer to provide other parties with information on how the risks to young workers are managed.

As well as consulting the young worker themselves, other relevant people to consult might include:

  • trade unions and safety representatives

  • agencies used to recruit apprentices

  • schools and colleges arranging work experience placements

  • the parents or guardians of any young person or child on work experience.

The increasing number of young people in work can be good for businesses. Young workers themselves can benefit by gaining an appreciation of risk and how to deal with it from an early age. But as young people are more likely to have a serious accident at work than adults, employers must ensure that they identify the risks to young workers and put suitable measures in place to prevent harm.