Young Workers

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Managing the Health & Safety of Young Workers : The Law and Young People

Risk factors
The law recognises that young people at work may be at particular risk because of their:

  • possible physical and psychological immaturity;
  • lack of awareness of the risks involved in the work they may be asked to do;
  • ignorance of risks associated with plant, equipment and substances;
  • eagerness to impress or to please; and
  • tendency to high spirits.

MHSW Regulations
Like all other workers, young people at work are protected by the Health and Safety at Work Act and subsidiary legislation, including the Management of Health and Safety at Work (MHSW) Regulations. Regulation 19 of MHSW states that "Every employer shall ensure that young persons employed by him are protected at work from any risks to their health or safety which are a consequence of their lack of experience, or absence of awareness of existing or potential risks or the fact that young persons have not fully matured"

Prohibitions
Except where it is necessary for their training and where they are supervised by a competent person and where the risk will be reduced to the lowest level reasonably practicable, young people are prohibited from doing work which:

  • is beyond their physical capacity;
  • could expose them to toxic carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic agents, or anything which can chronically affect human health;
  • could expose them to harmful radiation;
  • involves accident risks which cannot be recognised by young persons; and which involves
  • risks to health due to extreme heat or cold, noise or vibration.

To determine whether unacceptable risks are present from these sources, employers must take account of the results of risk assessment, making sure it takes into account young persons' attributes and limitations. Risks have to be assessed before young people start work. Where they are under the minimum school leaving age, there is a requirement to provide information on risks and control measures to parents/guardians before work starts. Guidance on and a format for recording risk assessments is given on this website. (see Risk Assessment at its simplest.)

Specific hazards
The HSE guide, 'Young People at Work: a guide for Employers', has a table listing the following specific hazards, risks and ways of avoiding them:

  • Awkward posture, repetitive movement, excessive physical loads;
  • Machine paced work paid by results;
  • Work beyond psychological capacity (stress, crisis management etc);
  • High pressure atmospheres (e.g. diving);
  • Biological agents;
  • Chemical agents (systemic toxins, cancer causing agents, allergens, lead, asbestos, etc)
  • Ionising/non-ionising radiation;
  • Explosives;
  • Fierce or poisonous animals;
  • Industrial scale animal slaughter;
  • Work with compressed, liquified or dissolved gases;
  • Flammable gases;
  • Gas cylinders;
  • Large vessels containing chemical agents;
  • Structures liable to collapse;
  • High voltage electricity;
  • Extremes of heat or cold;
  • Hand/arm vibration; or
  • Whole body vibration.

If, after all measures have been taken, significant risks remain, young persons cannot be engaged in the work in question - even for training.


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