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June 05, 2014
Are you taking necessary steps to protect summer workers?

Summer is almost here, and that means seasonal workers—including thousands of young people—are temporarily on the payroll. It’s your duty to protect them by providing a workplace free from known safety and health risks. Keep reading for timely tips.

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About 80 percent of U.S. teens work sometime during their high school years, often during the summer. They bring energy and a willingness to work to the job, but they are also inexperienced and less likely to speak up about hazards than older workers. For these and other reasons, tens of thousands of teens are injured on the job each year, and dozens lose their lives.

As an employer, you’re bound by provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act and by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which restricts the types of jobs teens younger than 18 can hold and the hours they can work. States also have their own laws about teen work.

Stay in compliance to keep summer workers safe on the job

Among your responsibilities as an employer of young workers, OSHA lists the following:

  • Understand and comply with relevant federal and state child labor laws.
  • Train young workers to recognize hazards and use safe work practices. Training should be in a language and vocabulary employees understand and should address fire prevention, accidents, violent situations, and what to do if an injury occurs.
  • Implement a buddy or mentor system for new young workers. Pair them with an adult or experienced young worker to help them learn the ropes and the rules.
  • Encourage teens to ask questions about tasks or procedures that are unclear or are not understood.
  • Make sure your communications are getting through. Young people are not just miniature adults; it may take different techniques to reach them.
  • Be certain that equipment is legal and safe for teens to use. Label equipment younger workers are not allowed to operate, such as meat slicers or bakery mixers.

What are the causes of young worker injuries and illnesses?

Teens get sick or injured on the job for many reasons. Among them are:

  • Muscle sprains, strains, or tears;
  • Unsafe equipment;
  • Inadequate safety training;
  • Inadequate supervision;
  • Dangerous work that’s illegal or inappropriate for teens;
  • Pressure to work faster; and
  • Stressful conditions.

For those working outdoors, the hazards include:

  • Exposure to the sun and heat,
  • Exposure to landscaping chemicals,
  • Mishaps involving machinery and vehicles,
  • Electricity,
  • Heavy lifting, and
  • Noise.

Remember that certain occupations are off-limits to young teens. The list includes mining, logging, meatpacking, roofing, excavation, and demolition. As well, they cannot drive a car or forklift on the job or work with saws, explosives, radioactive materials, or most machines.

Summer workers are with you for a limited time. But by helping them learn to identify and avoid risks, you can have a lasting impact on their working future.

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