With school out and summer in full swing, many teenagers and young adults are keeping busy with summer jobs. While businesses enjoy the extra staff—and young workers enjoy the spending money—it’s important to remember that employers don’t get a summer vacation from safety.
Young workers, which OSHA considers to be those up to age 24, are often at greater risk of work-related injuries than more experienced employees. According to research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), between 1998 and 2007, workers under the age of 25 experienced a nonfatal injury rate more than twice as high as the rate for older workers.
Because they may be new to the workforce, teenagers and young adults are more likely to be unfamiliar with safety protocols. What’s more, because of their inexperience, many young workers may be unaware of their right to a safe and healthy workplace and may be afraid to speak up if something seems unsafe. Thus, it becomes even more important for employers to ensure that young workers receive all the safety training, personal protective equipment (PPE), and supervision they need on the job.
Key facts about young worker injuries and fatalities from NIOSH:
- The highest rates of fatal injuries for young workers between 2003 and 2007 occurred in mining, agriculture, and construction.
- The highest number of fatal injuries for young workers between 2003 and 2007 occurred in the services, construction, wholesale and retail trade, and agriculture.
- Contact with objects or equipment was the most common source of nonfatal injury. These injuries include being struck by or against, rubbed or abraded, or caught in or crushed by tools, equipment, machinery, parts, or materials.
- Young Hispanic workers had a fatality rate higher than the rate for their non-Hispanic counterparts. Training all workers in a language they can understand is essential—and required by OSHA.
What rules apply?
In addition to safety regulations that apply to all employees, child labor laws restrict the types of jobs minors (those under 18) can perform, the equipment they can use, and the hours they can work. There are both federal and state laws that apply to workers under age 18, who generally are not permitted to perform work considered hazardous.
For example, employees under age 18 are prohibited from operating forklifts, using many types of power equipment, performing roofing work, and working in trenching or excavation, to name a few. For 14- and 15-year-olds, the list is even more restrictive. For this age group, unless an occupation is specifically allowed, it is prohibited. Examples of permitted occupations include retail and some kitchen and food service work. Check both state and federal laws to make sure you’re in compliance.
Your duty as an employer
Even though your summer staff may only be with you for a short time, you have the same duty to provide them with training and protection from hazards. Here are some important tips:
- When training young workers, make sure you communicate in language they can understand. This doesn’t just apply to workers with minimal English skills; teenagers’ vocabularies may be more limited than those of adults. To make sure your training is understood, try using interactive methods, visuals, quizzes, and hands-on demonstrations.
- Pair young workers with a more experienced mentor, particularly when they’re new to the job. This will give them a go-to person who can answer questions, provide assistance, and supervise the new worker more thoroughly than a manager who isn’t as involved in day-to-day operations.
- If a job requires PPE, make sure the equipment fits younger workers properly and that they use it correctly.
- Make sure your training includes information about:
- Young workers’ right to a safe and healthful workplace;
- Recognizing hazards and following safe work practices;
- What types of job functions are permitted and prohibited for young workers;
- How to respond to an emergency if one occurs;
- What to do in case of injury or illness on the job; and
- Where to find safety information if workers have questions after the training.
OSHA has a website dedicated to young worker safety that includes sections geared towards workers, parents and educators, and employers. It contains information on job hazards that commonly apply to young workers, labor laws and safety regulations, and links to other resources. Check it out at https://www.osha.gov/youngworkers/index.html.