Concept for - A practical health & safety guide to employing young persons

Young workers play an important role in the rural and wider Southwest economy, whether they are helping out on the family farm, a neighbouring farm, or undertaking work experience. They also gain invaluable experience, life skills and independence. Getting it right will benefit all concerned. The key to doing so is having a safe working environment and making sure the work is suitable for the young person’s age and ability. Steve Panton from our regulatory team summarises the specific requirements employers must follow when employing young persons under 18 years of age.

Definitions – young persons and children

Under health and safety law, in England and Wales;

  • a young person is defined as anyone under 18;
  • a child is anyone aged below the official minimum school leaving age, which is the last Friday in June of the academic year in which they reach 16.

Who can you employ?

You cannot employ anyone below the age of 13 other than in exceptional circumstances, none of which are likely to apply to work in a rural setting.

Subject to local authority by-laws in your area, it may be possible for children aged 13 to work part-time. Otherwise, children cannot work until they are 14.

Between the age of 14 and the official minimum school leaving age, children can carry out light work that is unlikely to be harmful to their safety, health or development, albeit with restrictions on the number of hours they are able to work each week, depending on how old they are.

Young persons, 16 and 17 year olds, can work on a full-time basis, or as an apprentice or training scheme but they shouldn’t usually be asked to work more than 40 hours a week or 8 hours a day.

Ensuring the health and safety of young people at work – what does the law require?

As an employer, you will owe a general duty of care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all of your employees.

However, Regulation 19 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 imposes an additional duty on those employing young persons. If you employ anyone under 18 you must ensure that they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety because of a lack of experience, maturity or awareness of existing or potential risks associated with the tasks that they are expected to undertake.

First of all, make sure they will be able to follow instructions and, after training, guidance and with supervision, understand how to work safely. Then, if you have not employed young persons before, consider whether your existing arrangements are suitable and sufficient to cover your new employee. If not, you will need to take account of any additional relevant factors, to reflect their lack of experience, maturity and needs. Where required, put additional controls in place. You have to do this before they start work. Also, when employing a young person below the official minimum school leaving age you need to tell their parents or carers if any significant workplace risks exist to the child and how you will control them.

Remember, if you employ more than five people, you are required to have a written risk assessment and keep this up to date.

In a low risk working environment, such as a shop, restaurant or café, the existing arrangements you have in place for other workers should be ok. However, you will still need to think about tasks and equipment that will be less familiar to young persons, and what additional training and supervision may be needed.

In higher-risk environments, such as agriculture, food production, manufacturing and construction more time will probably be needed to ensure you have the right risk management arrangements in place. Be clear on what tasks the young person should not be allowed to undertake and what equipment they cannot use. As an example, young workers ages between 13-16 can only drive a low powered tractor or quad bike if they have the strength and reach to operate the controls, they have been trained by a competent training provider, they are going to be closely supervised and there are no steep slopes, watercourses or potentially hazardous terrain in the area where they will be working. The manufacturers’ instructions will say what the minimum driver’s age should be.

There will be certain tasks that young workers under 16 cannot undertake, such as operating self-propelled harvesters, powered cultivators and power-driven machines used for cutting, splitting and grinding (including chainsaws).

HSE accident and enforcement statistics act as a reminder of the importance of employers understanding and satisfying their legal obligations. Inadequate training and supervision and a failure to properly assess the risks to young persons at work remain the main reasons why things go wrong.

If you wish to discuss anything covered in this article regarding young persons, please get in touch with our specialist Regulatory team.