Young workers

Work experience can be a daunting prospect for a student. Caught up in the cycle of job hunting and trying to find the right career path, health & safety is unlikely to be at the top of their agenda. It is therefore important for employers to recognise and understand their role in keeping their work experience students safe, and know by law what their responsibility is.

In fact it’s relatively straightforward. Under health and safety law, you must treat work experience students as if they are your own employees. They must also be treated as equals to other young staff who are fully employed by your organisation.

As the employer you have a responsibility to ensure that young people employed by you are not exposed to risk due to:

  • lack of experience
  • being unaware of existing or potential risks and/or
  • lack of maturity

If you haven’t taken on a young work experience placement before, schools/colleges/others organising placements will be in contact with you to make sure you have appropriate risk and safety arrangements in place.

Alcumus recommends the following considerations for employers taking on work experience staff:

  • Think about whether your work environment is a low-risk environment or a high-risk environment. Environments such as offices or shops have risks known as ‘everyday risks’, and the student is likely to be familiar with these risks.
  • Consider whether additional inductions or supervision would be helpful if the risks associated with your business are not your  ‘everyday risks’ and are less familiar to the student – for example lifting heavy objects or working with hot items.
  • Further considerations should be put into practice in higher-risk environments such as construction or manufacture. Think about risks such as radiation and noise, and what you will do to ensure your employee is safe, and what precautions you may take (i.e. assisting/observing them).
  • Depending on your work environment you may need to put additional controls in place. For example consider the legal age limits on use of equipment. Remember, a ‘young person’ is classed as a person under the age of 18 years, and a ‘child’ is a person under 16 (under the minimum school leaving age). You should not let unauthorised, unqualified or untrained people use machinery – never allow children to operate or help at machines. Some workers, eg new starters, young people or those with disabilities, may be particularly at risk and need instruction, training and supervision.
  • Adequate instruction and training, appropriate to the physical and emotional maturity of the person being trained, should be provided.

Finally as an employer you are responsible for the health and safety of any individual who comes to work with you. It is therefore advisable that you sit down with the student and go through in detail the risks that he/she may be vulnerable to, and record in notes the conversation and relevant precautions addressed.