This week, people around the world are recognising World Youth Skills Day. International Days are celebrated by the UN throughout the year (see my previous blog on World Day for Safety and Health at Work), as a chance to “educate the general public” on a range of topics, to encourage political engagement and resources to address particular issues, and to “celebrate and reinforce the achievements of humanity”. For employers, World Youth Skills Day is perhaps a chance to reflect not only on how to help young workers to develop their skills, but also on their own responsibility to protect junior staff from harm.
In the UK, as well as an employer’s general health and safety duties to all its employees, there are additional obligations to prevent harm to a “young person” (under the age of 18) in the workplace (Reg. 19, Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999). Some of the provisions in the Regulation are perhaps to be expected, such as the general requirement to protect young employees from any risks:
“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 yet fully matured”.
Some young people would object to the suggestion that they lack awareness or maturity; nonetheless, employers are required to at least have a heightened awareness of the fact that they might.
In addition, there are other provisions in this Regulation which employers may not be aware of. Employers are specifically restricted from employing a young person for work “which is beyond his physical or psychological capacity”, or in roles where there is a risk from “extreme cold or heat, noise, or vibration”. These additional requirements may be forgotten in the general business of the employer, but to comply with health and safety law, employers must ensure they have considered and assessed any such risks. Helpfully, HSE provides some guidance on this.
The risks involved in not preparing for young people in the workplace are sadly too often demonstrated. In a recent example, a business was fined after a teenage apprentice was found unconscious following exposure to chemical fumes. In Scotland, a company was fined £120,000 after admitting health and safety breaches in relation to a 17-year-old who died following injuries sustained on his final day of a summer job (his colleague was later acquitted of culpable homicide of the teenager).
Young people can bring great benefits to an employer: from individuals bringing new ideas or perspectives to the workplace, to giving the business an opportunity to grow and develop their own talent in-house and improve employee engagement in the long-term. Businesses should not be deterred from hiring young employees; but, World Youth Skills Day is a reminder for employers to think not only about how they can help young people join the workforce, but also how to ensure they are kept safe while they learn.