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Keeping Young Workers Safe on the Job

Young workers and employers can both benefit from summer temp jobs but it’s important that everyone understand the rights and responsibilities involved.

Young Workers

Young workers include teenagers, those new to the workforce, college students and anyone up to the age of 24. These younger workers can be a great asset to your workforce, but it’s important to keep in mind that this may be their first job or the first time they are operating equipment. It’s also critical that employers remember that they may have little or no familiarity of key concepts and processes that are taken for granted as common knowledge on the job.

Hiring young temp workers during the summer months is a great way to give young people work experience and a paycheck while gaining valuable additions to the team during a peak production and service season.

Young Man Working at Coffee Shop

Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe and healthful work environment, and this includes young workers. First-line supervisors have the greatest opportunity to protect young workers and influence their work habits. It is important to include young workers in all safety meetings right from day one on the job! Owners and managers should provide supervisors the guidance, resources, tools, and sufficient time required to ensure they can adequately train young staff to work safely.

Many young workers are also temporary workers. Employers must treat their temporary workers as they treat permanent workers, especially including adequate training to young temporary workers. Temporary staffing agencies and host employers share control over the employee, and are therefore jointly responsible for the temp employee's safety and health. However, many staffing agencies expect the host employer to provide all of the safety and health training. Never assume that the worker has received the required safety training to do the job!

Young Construction Worker

Young workers get injured or sick on the job for many reasons, including:

  • Unsafe equipment
  • Inadequate safety training
  • Inadequate supervision
  • Dangerous work that is illegal or inappropriate for youth under 18
  • Pressure to work faster
  • Stressful conditions
  • Workplace hazards associated with specific jobs
Young Workers, Working for Parks Department

Employer responsibilities for young workers include:

  • Understand and comply with the relevant federal and state child labor laws. For example, these laws prohibit youth from working certain hours and from performing dangerous/hazardous work.
  • Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards and follow all OSHA safety and health standards. This includes finding and correcting safety and health hazards.
  • Ensure that young workers receive training to recognize hazards and are competent in safe work practices. Training should be in a language and vocabulary that workers can understand and should include prevention of fires, accidents and violent situations and what to do if injured.
  • Implement a mentoring or buddy system for new young workers. Have an adult or experienced young worker answer questions and help the new young worker learn the ropes of a new job.
  • Encourage young workers to ask questions about tasks or procedures that are unclear or not understood. Tell them whom to ask.
  • Remember that young workers are not just "little adults." You must be mindful of the unique aspects of communicating with young workers.
  • Ensure that equipment operated by young workers is both legal and safe for them to use. Employers should label equipment that young workers are not allowed to operate.
  • Provide the required personal protective equipment (PPE) and pay for most types of required PPE.
  • Tell young workers what to do if they get hurt on the job.
Young Warehouse Worker

Follow OSHA rules for recording or reporting workplace injuries if a young worker gets hurt on the job. For employers that would like to hire young workers, or are perhaps already doing so, but aren’t quite sure about all the laws that might apply to their industry, the Department of Labor has put together a great Youth Employment Guide that anyone can download for free. This brochure includes minimum age standards, occupations that are not permitted for minors, and additional information on agricultural work also.

For even more information, visit OSHA’s Resources for Young Worker Safety and Health that is a collection of direct links to federal, state, educational and professional resources that can provide more specific information on employing young workers.

Employers in every industry are strongly encouraged to develop an injury and illness prevention program. An effective safety program benefits all workers, including youth, and involves supervisors, management, experienced workers and new workers.

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