Back to Basics, Training

Back to Basics: Young Workers

Back to Basics is a weekly feature that highlights important but possibly overlooked information that any EHS professional should know. This week, we examine the employer responsibilities when employing young workers, and the safety of young people at work.

As summer approaches, many employers may be hiring young people for temporary work or summer jobs. According to OSHA, it is important for employers to have a full understanding of their responsibilities for taking care of young workers, and how to keep them safe on the job.

Defining terms

Young workers are those new to the workforce, even up to the age of 24. They can be great assets in a workplace, however it might be their first job or their first time operating equipment, says OSHA. Child labor laws are in place across the United States in order to restrict the types of jobs, hours worked, and equipment operated by youth under the age of 18. There are both federal and state child labor laws that apply to young workers, which employers should familiarize themselves with.

Many young workers are also temporary workers, and therefore they must be treated as well as the existing employees and be provided with proper training. In these cases, host employers and temporary staffing agencies share control over the employee, and are jointly responsible for the temporary employee’s safety and health.


There are many hazards that young workers face on the job. They might get sick or injured because of the following:

  • Unsafe equipment
  • Inadequate safety training
  • Lack of supervision
  • Dangerous work that is illegal or inappropriate for minors under 18
  • Pressure to work faster
  • Stressful conditions

OSHA provides a list of industries that young workers might be a part of and the hazards that come with working in those fields. Employers need to reduce or minimize hazards in these workplaces to protect young workers and their other employees as well. OSHA also has a list of resources to help maintain the safety and health of young workers.

Employer responsibilities

Under the OSH Act, employers have the responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace and comply with occupational safety and health standards. The responsibilities that apply to all workers also apply to young employees, and OSHA has some additional requirements.

According to OSHA, employers are responsible for understanding and complying with the relevant federal and state child labor laws. These laws prohibit young workers from working certain hours and from performing specific dangerous and hazardous work.

Young workers must receive training to recognize hazards and they must be competent in safe work practices. Training must be in a language and vocabulary that workers can understand, and should include prevention of accidents, fires, and violent situations, and what to do if an injury occurs.

A mentoring or buddy system should be implemented for new young workers. An adult or experienced young employee should answer questions and help the new young worker learn the ropes of the new position and workplace.

Young workers should be encouraged to ask questions about tasks or procedures that are unclear or misunderstood, and they should be directed towards the correct people to ask. Young workers are not just “little adults,” and employers must be mindful of the unique aspects of communicating with them.

Employers need to make sure that the equipment operated by young workers is both legal and safe for them to use, and they must label the equipment that young workers are not allowed to use. Lastly, young workers need to be educated about what to do if they get hurt while at work.

Parents and educators

According to OSHA, parents and educators play a vital role in the safety of young workers as well. Parents must be aware, and know where their children are working and what they are doing. They must ask questions about the work and training and discuss problems or concerns. Parents should help their child report hazards to managers or to OSHA if the work environment is unsafe.

They must also watch for signs of concerns, such as the job taking a toll on the physical or mental health of their child. Jobs can affect school performance due to a loss of energy, and they can also increase levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression.

Educators must understand their role, they have the opportunity to teach students safety and health skills to help them succeed and be safe on the job. They should also teach young workers their rights and provide safety information. OSHA recommends incorporating information about workers’ rights and occupational safety and health hazards into middle and high school curriculums.

Health and safety training should be integrated into general education and vocational programs. This might be the only training that students get before entering the workforce, and they’ll be able to use that information throughout the remainder of their careers.

Click here to view OSHA’s full list of resources and recommendations for young worker safety.

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