Employer Advisory: Young Persons at Work

It’s that time of year again, when school leavers are seeking their first full time or permanent employment or work experience during the prolonged summer break...

Such arrangements are particularly popular and beneficial to both employer and young person.

Often it is a suitable means for a young person to save money to put towards that now “ubiquitous” gap year experience.

While many employers are enthusiastic to offer employment or work experience, there are valid Health and Safety considerations that need to be considered in order to ensure young persons' Health, Safety and Welfare at work.

Frequently asked questions:

Q. How old is a young person at work?
A. Less than 18 years of age.

Q. As an employer am I responsible for the young person?
A. Yes, you are responsible for their health, safety and welfare while employed by you.

Q. What am I expected to do?
A. Consider the type of work they will be undertaking and ensure that a suitable and sufficient risk assessment has been undertaken, where relevant to ensure that no harm occurs.

Q. Do I have to provide general induction training?
A. Yes, treat the person as you would any other employee and ensure you induct in accident reporting and first aid.

Q. Do I have to specifically induct in fire safety?
A. Absolutely yes, ensure you cover all relevant fire safety arrangements and procedures.

Q. Can the young person work at a computer?
A. Yes, but do carry out a workstation risk assessment, so as to ensure suitable posture and workstation set-up.

Q. Will I be asked for any specific documentation?
A. Yes, the provider is duty bound to request confirmation that you have suitable Health and Safety documentation in place, i.e. Health and Safety Policy Statement, General, Fire and Manual Handling Risk Assessments etc.

The following is a technical overview of the precise requirements in relation to employing young persons at work in order for employers to fulfill their duty of care and due diligence requirements.

Employing Young Persons at Work

Section 19(1) of the Management of Health and Safety At Work Regulations 1999, states that “Every employer shall ensure that where young persons are employed that they be protected at work from any risks to their health and safety specifically as a consequence of their lack of experience, or absence of awareness of existing or potential risks or the fact that young persons have not yet fully matured.”

When you offer a work experience placement to young person, you have the same responsibilities for their health, safety and welfare as for all your employees. It’s important to be aware that under health and safety law, these young persons will be regarded as your employees.

As an employer, you will already have to carry out formal written risk assessments (as long as you employ at least five people). This means looking at what in your work could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm.

It is important to know what you need to do when assessing the health and safety hazards to all the young people in your workforce below the age of 18, including work experience students. A young person is considered to be anyone under 18 years old and a child is defined as anyone who has not yet reached the official age at which they may leave school – around the age of 16 (this is often referred to as the minimum school leaving age (MSLA).

Under health and safety law, you must assess the risks to young people, before they start work or work experience and tell them what the risks are. You should also take into account that these young people are likely to be inexperienced, unaware of health and safety risks and may be physically or mentally immature.

Measures must be put in place to control the risks identified, either removing them altogether or reduce them to the lowest possible level reasonably practicable. The key findings of the risk assessment should be passed on to the parents or guardians of any students (and employees) below minimum school leaving age and a record of these findings should be retained by the employer, as long as there are five or more employees (including young people on work experience).

The law requires you to take account of a number of points in your risk assessment before a young person starts work or work experience. Try to look at your workplace from an adolescent’s viewpoint. What dangers will they recognise? They may not be fully grown – will they find their workplace awkward and the tools too big?

In particular, you should look at how the workplace is fitted and laid out and what type of work equipment will be used and how it will be handled. How the work is organised also needs to be considered, and is there a need to provide specific health and safety training to the young person.

The young person must not be allowed to do the work where it has been found that a significant risk remains in spite of any best efforts to take all reasonable steps to control it. It is also possible that the risk assessment may bring to light certain risks which young people cannot be exposed to under health and safety law.

The overall rule is that young people under 18 years old must not be allowed to do work which:

  • cannot be adapted to meet any physical or mental limitations they may have;
  • exposes them to substances which are toxic or potentially harmful;
  • exposes them to harmful radiation;
  • involves extreme heat, noise or vibration.

    Young people who are over the MSLA can do this work under very special circumstances, if the work is necessary for their training, the work is properly supervised by a competent person, and the risks are reduced to the lowest level, so far as is reasonably practicable. Children below the MSLA must never do work involving these risks whether they are employed or under training such as work experience.

    Young people need training most when they start a job or work experience. They need to be trained to do the work without putting themselves and other people at risk. It is important that you check they have understood training which covers the hazards and risks in the workplace, as well as the control measures put in place to protect their health and safety. They should also be provided with a basic introduction to health and safety, including first-aid and fire and evacuation procedures.

    Young people will be facing unfamiliar risks from the job they will be doing and from their surroundings and are therefore likely to need more supervision than adults. Good supervision will also help you to get a clear idea of their progress in the job and to monitor the effectiveness of their training.

    When offering work experience to a young person, schools or work experience organisers will need to satisfy themselves about your management of health and safety. This is part of their legal responsibilities towards the young people they send to work placements (duty of care).

    You can expect them to ask you questions such as:

  • Do you have a health and safety policy and how do you carry it out? (It must be written down if you have five or more employees, including work experience participants)
  • Have you carried out a risk assessment recently and does it cover the particular risks from the work experience?
  • Have you taken the necessary measures to control these risks?
  • Is there a named person in the workplace who will be responsible for work experience persons?
  • How will work experience be supervised and will you provide health and safety induction and training?
  • Will you provide any necessary personal protective equipment?

    The work experience organiser may ask about other things which show that you pay proper attention to health and safety, for example:

  • What are your systems for dealing with any accidents and emergencies?
  • Do you arrange training on fire procedures for staff and work experience students?
  • Do you provide first-aid equipment and keep records of first-aid treatment?
  • Are trained first aiders available?
  • Is an accident book available and do you know about your legal duties to report accidents?
  • Do you have adequate insurance, including Employer's Liability Insurance and Public Liability Insurance and Motor Vehicle insurance where required, and does that cover extend to work experience students?
  • Do you consult employees on health and safety and have you appointed employee health and safety representatives?

    The work experience organiser may ask you to sign a written agreement which can be especially helpful in making the responsibilities of both sides clear. Sometimes this is combined with consent from the parentor guardian and the young person. For instance, the parent or guardian will be able to see your risk assessment and control measures and at the same time you will be able to see information on, for example, the health of the young person.

    The agreement could also set out a plan of work for the placement, arrangements for instruction and training before the work starts and how the young person will be supervised and who will be responsible.

    Winter and Company advise that the content of this feature is not an exhaustive list of considerations and should be considered only as general guidance. Each employer and workplace will represent different hazards, associated risks and health and safety considerations. Every employer must ensure that they conform to the individual requirements as provided within health and safety legislation and must not rely on the content of this advisory.

    Winter and Company offers specialist consultation on the full spectrum of health and safety issues affecting businesses and employees in the UK.

    It is headed by Mitchell Winter TechSP (Technician Safety Practitioner) of The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).