Last reviewed 3 May 2022

It is unfortunate that the chances of new employees having an accident in their first six months at a workplace are equal to those during the rest of their working lives. Jon Herbert highlights why it is crucial that young workers receive the right training and supervision needed as they come face-to-face with unfamiliar risks.

Statistically at risk

The chances of employees having an accident in their first half year of employment in a workplace are the same as in the remainder of their working lives. This should be a concern for employers, says HSE.

The International Labour Organisations (ILO) goes further. Its research shows that because they lack the skills and experience of older employees, a young worker's risk of injury is four times greater in the first month of a new job than after a full 12 months in the same job.

There is also evidence that the five leading workplace injuries for young people are:

  • sprains and strains (including back injuries)

  • soft tissue injuries (cuts, punctures, bruises)

  • bone fractures

  • joint inflammation

  • burns or scalds.

In many cases, injuries are attributed to causes such as:

  • limited experience, awareness and training

  • physically demanding work

  • irregular working arrangements

  • insufficient skills and training

  • not being aware of their rights and employers’ duties

  • lacking confidence to speak out

  • employers not recognising the additional protection young workers need.

What the law demands

UK health and safety law says all employers must ensure “as far as reasonably practicable” the health and safety of all employees of all ages. However, specific provisions are needed for young people.

Reasonably practicable means balancing risk levels against measures needed to control real risks in terms of money, time and trouble. Therefore, no action that is grossly disproportionate to the level of risk involved is needed.

The UN defines “youth” as anyone between the ages of 15 and 24. By this definition, there are 541 million young workers in the world today who account for more than 15% of the global labour force.

They include students working in their spare time, apprentices, interns, young people who have finished or dropped out of compulsory education, young workers in family businesses, young employers and self-employed workers.

UK requirements

In the UK, young people are defined as anyone under the age of 18 at work, on work experience, or employed as an apprentice.

Current updated guidance to help young people and those employing them understand their responsibilities can be seen on the HSE website.

Putting the requirements summarised below into practice is meant to be straightforward; most employers should already have the necessary risk management arrangements in place. But additional notes may help.

Definitions of young people and children by age

As already mentioned, a young person is anyone under 18; a child is anyone who has not yet reached the official minimum school leaving age (MSLA) which pupils meet in the school year they turn 16.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a responsibility to ensure young people they employ are not exposed to risks as a result of:

  • a lack of experience

  • being unaware of existing or potential risks

  • a lack of maturity.

Employers must consider:

  • their workplace layout

  • physical, biological and chemical agents young people will be exposed to

  • how they handle work equipment

  • how work and processes are organised

  • the extent of health and safety training needed

  • risks from particular agents, processes and work.

For low-risk workplaces such as office, these requirements should be straightforward. In higher-risk workplaces, more attention is needed to ensure the likelihood of greater risks is controlled properly.

Further direct risk questions

Employers must also consider whether the work the young person will do could involve any of a wider number of greater risks.

For example, is work beyond their physical or psychological capacity? This could simply mean checking that a young person is capable of lifting weights safely, and remembering and following instructions.

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

Another aspect of this is being aware of substances a young person might come into contact with in the course of their work, plus considering exposure levels and ensuring that legal limits are met.

Does work involve harmful exposure to radiation? It is important to ensure a young person's exposure to radiation is restricted and does not exceed the allowed dose limit.

Wider risk questions

Employers should also ask whether work involves the risk of accidents that cannot reasonably be recognised or avoided by young people due to insufficient attention to safety or their lack of experience or training.

Similarly, a young person might be unfamiliar with “obvious” risks, in which case an employer should consider the need for tailored training/closer supervision.

There might also be health risks from extreme cold, heat, noise or vibration. In most cases, young people will be at no greater risk than adults; workplaces with these hazards are likely to already have control measures in place.

Age barriers

A child must never carry out work involving these risks, whether permanently employed, or under training such as work experience. A young person who is not a child can carry out work involving these risks if:

  • the work is necessary for their training

  • the work is supervised properly by a competent person

  • risks are reduced to the lowest level as far as reasonably practicable.

Providing supervision for young workers and monitoring their progress will help employers to identify where additional adjustments may be needed.

Employers must let the parents or guardians of any child know of possible risks and measures put in place to control them. This can be done in a simple and suitable way, such as verbally.

Employers will already be familiar with risks associated with their workplace and should be in a position to consider what is or is not appropriate. Employers with fewer than five employees are not required to have a written risk assessment.

Other issues to consider

Other agents, processes and work need to be taken into account when employing a young person. HSE provides a non-exhaustive list with links to more information. It includes:

  • biological agents

  • working with chemicals

  • working with lead and lead processes

  • asbestos

  • working with explosives that include fireworks

  • working with compressed air

  • construction which includes demolition

  • electrical safety

  • agriculture

  • manufacturing.

Working hours for young workers

Working hours are not governed by health and safety law. Young people and children have different employment rights from adult workers and are subject to protections in relation to the hours they can work. More information is given at www.gov.uk.

Other regulations

Children below the minimum school leaving age (MSLA) must not be employed in industrial workplaces such as factories, construction sites, etc except when on work experience.

Children under 13 are generally prohibited from any form of employment. Local authorities can pass byelaws on the types of work, and hours of work, children aged between 13 and the MSLA can do.

Additional information on young people at work, including work experience is available at www.hse.gov.uk.

Apprentices

Further guidance and information relating to apprentices can also be seen at www.hse.gov.uk.

Training provider responsibilities, unless an Apprenticeship Training Agency, are the same as for work placement organisers (www.hse.gov.uk).

Apprenticeship Training Agency (England and Wales)

Where Apprenticeship Training Agency (ATA) services in England and Wales are used to source, arrange and find a host for an apprenticeship, the Agency is the apprentice's employer.

The ATA and the host organisation must then work together to control risks effectively; www.hse.gov.uk provides more information on co-operation to ensure the same level of health and safety protection for apprentices hosted via this arrangement as for a host organisation's employees.

Training providers (England and Wales)

Training providers include everyone who arranges or fills apprentice vacancies, such as third party subcontractors and those only involved in organising an apprenticeship’s off the job training elements.

Employers still have primary responsibility for apprentice health and safety and managing significant risks. Training providers should take reasonable steps to ensure employers do this, HSE suggests.

This does not mean trying to second guess an employer's risk assessment or risk control measures; providers are not required to carry out their own workplace assessment.

Past experience is seen as a good guide, for example, if an employer is familiar to a provider and has a good health and safety track record.

Risk environments

The advice is that checks by providers should then be in proportion to the environment.

In low risk environments — offices or shops — with everyday risks already mostly familiar to apprentices, speaking with employers as part of a wider conversation on placement arrangements should be enough to confirm this.

Where environments pose less familiar risks — light assembly or packing facilities — providers should talk to employers about what apprentices will be doing and confirm arrangements for managing risks, including induction, training, supervision, site familiarisation, and protective equipment.

In higher risk environments — construction, agriculture or manufacturing — providers should discuss with employers what apprentices will be doing, any risks involved and how these are managed. Providers should satisfy themselves that instruction, training and supervisory arrangements have been thought through properly.

Finally, check that apprentices know how to raise any health and safety concerns!

Young people at work FAQs

A list of regularly asked “young people” and “work experience” questions and detailed answers can be seen at www.hse.gov.uk.

Takeaways

  • HSE reminds employers that they remain responsible for the health and safety of all their employees “as far as reasonably practicable”.

  • However, HSE stresses the importance of providing the training and supervision that workers, and particularly young people and apprentices, need when they come face-to-face with unfamiliar risks. It explains reasons why they may be vulnerable in the return to work.

  • The HSE website gives detailed information on the definitions of age with young people, their legally-allowed working hours and roles, plus pertinent regulations and direct risks.

  • Information is also provided for training providers in England and Wales in a range of common risk environments. A series of “young people” and “work experience” FAQs is listed.