Keeping Young Workers Safe

Young people with summer jobs need to be trained on safe work habits.

By Alexandra Walsh

The season for summer jobs has arrived and there are things you need to know if you’re considering adding young workers to your roster of employees.

Millions of teens in the United States work. Surveys indicate 80% of teens have worked by the time they finish high school. While work provides numerous benefits for young people, it can also be dangerous.

In 2013, there were a little more than 18 million workers younger than 24 years of age, representing 13% of the total workforce, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Young workers, though, have high occupational injury rates, in part explained by a high frequency of injury hazards in workplaces where they typically work. Inexperience and lack of proper safety training also likely contribute to their increased injury risks.

For the youngest workers, those still in high school, there may also be physical and intellectual contributors to increased injury rates, such as inadequate strength, maturity, and mental abilities to operate certain kinds of equipment.

In 2012, statistics showed 375 workers younger than 24 years old died from work-related injuries—including 29 deaths of youngsters under 18 years old. The rate for young workers treated for occupational injuries in the emergency room was almost two times higher than among workers 25 and older.

As new workers, adolescents naturally are likely to be inexperienced and unfamiliar with many of the tasks on the job required of them. Yet despite teen workers’ high injury rates on the job, safety at work is usually one of the last things they worry about.

Many of the most positive traits of teens—their energy, enthusiasm, and a need for increased challenge and responsibility—can result in their taking on tasks they are not prepared to do safely. They may also be reluctant to ask questions or make demands on their employers.

Health and safety education is an important component of preventing injuries for working teens. While training specific to the workplace is most critical, young people also need opportunities to learn and practice general health and safety skills they will carry with them from job to job as they grow older.

Teens should be able to recognize hazards in any workplace. They should understand how hazards can be controlled, and what to do in an emergency. They should know what rights they have on the job, and how to speak up effectively when problems arise at work.

Laws Related to Youth Workers

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) includes youth employment provisions that are designed to protect young workers by limiting the types of jobs and the number of hours they may work.

The provisions differ based on the age of the minor. Once a youth reaches 18 years of age, they are no longer subject to the federal child labor provisions. However, employees under 20 years of age may be paid $4.25 per hour during their first consecutive 90 calendar days of employment. After that, covered minor employees under 20 years old must be paid at least the statutory minimum wage for all hours worked.

DACUM Codes
To help meet your professional needs, this column covers skills and competencies found in DACUM charts for drillers and pump installers. DO refers to the drilling chart and PI represents the pumps chart. The letter and number immediately following is the skill on the chart covered by the column. This column covers: DOD-8, DOK-8, DOK-9, DOL-2, DOL-3, DOL-10, PIB-2, PIG-3

More information on DACUM and the charts are available at www.NGWA.org/Certification by clicking on “Exam Information.”

While there are specific rules about hours and occupations related to young workers 14 to 16 years old, for the purposes of this column, we will concentrate on hours and occupation rules for 16- and 17-year-olds. Be sure to check your state’s regulations for young workers and the OSHA rules, which apply to all employees regardless of their age.

Hours Rules: Under the FLSA, 16- and 17-year-olds may be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation other than those declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. Several states restrict the number of hours and times of day this age group may be employed. Be sure to check with your State Department of Labor. You can find the state laws of all the states by logging on to www.youthrules.dol.gov.

Occupation Rules: Seventeen hazardous non-farm jobs or tasks, as determined by the Secretary of Labor, are out of bounds for young workers below the age of 18. Tasks that could be related to water well drilling that young people may not work at include:

  • Storing or handling explosives
  • Any driving by 16-year-olds, certain driving for 17-year-olds, being an outside helper on a motor vehicle
  • Operating, tending, riding on, working from, repairing, servicing, or disassembling a crane, derrick, hoist, or high-lift truck—includes assisting in any hoisting tasks performed by the equipment
  • Power-driven hoisting equipment
  • Operating any kind of drill used for water well drilling
  • Excavating, working in, backfilling trenches—except manually excavating, manually backfilling, or working in trenches no deeper than 4 feet at any point
  • Working in tunnels before all driving and shoring operations are completed
  • Working in shafts before all sinking and shoring operations are completed.
Get Safety Products in NGWA Bookstore
An assortment of products from the National Ground Water Association are available for you to consider so you can stay safe at the jobsite. They include videos on drilling and pump installation jobsites, a set of sheets with details so you can conduct weekly safety meetings, and a CD that provides a complete safety program manual for firms working in the groundwater industry. To learn more, visit the NGWA Bookstore at https://my.ngwa.org/nc__Store.

Employer Safety Checklist

To be sure, some tasks and tools present more of a hazard than others. Many hazardous activities are limited or prohibited for young people by the FLSA. But employers can take some simple steps to prevent injuries to working teens.

  • Understand and comply with federal and state youth employment and occupational safety and health rules.
  • Stress safety, particularly among supervisors who have the greatest opportunity to influence teens and their work habits. They are important role models.
  • Make sure young workers are appropriately trained and supervised to prevent injuries and exposure to hazards.
  • Work with supervisors and experienced workers to develop an injury and illness prevention program and help identify and solve safety and health problems. Many injuries can be prevented through simple work redesign.
  • Train young workers to recognize hazards and use safe work practices. This is especially important since teens often have little work experience and new workers are at a disproportionate risk of injury.

Preparing Young Workers to Work Safely

Young workers want to do a good job, but they need help to work safely. Their inexperience works against them and they may not feel comfortable asking questions. Employers should take the following four steps to help prepare youth to work safely. What they learn, they will take with them throughout their working lives.

Train and double-check young workers performing job tasks.

Supervisors and coworkers can help compensate for inexperience by showing teens how to do the job correctly. What may be obvious to experienced employees may not be so clear to a teen tackling a job for the first time. Time spent showing a young worker the best way to handle a job will be paid back three times over by work done right, without harm to products or equipment, or injury to workers. Training youth to work safely is a multi-step process:

  • Give them clear instructions and tell them what safety precautions to take.
  • Ask them to repeat your instructions and give them an opportunity to ask questions.
  • Show them how to perform the task, then watch them as they do it, correcting any mistakes.
  • Finally, ask if they have any additional questions.

Once young workers know what to do and have demonstrated they can do the job right, check again later on to be sure they are continuing to do the task correctly. Don’t let them take shortcuts with safety. Be sure, too, that supervisors and coworkers set a good example by themselves following all the appropriate rules.

Show young workers how to use safety equipment.

The FLSA prohibits young workers from doing tasks identified as particularly hazardous—but some youth may still need to wear personal protective equipment like safety shoes, hard hats, gloves, or eye protection, depending on the nature of the work. Be sure the teens know when they need to wear protective gear, where to find it, how to use it, and how to care for it.

In other cases, young workers may simply need to know about safety features on equipment or in the facilities. For example, they may need to be aware they must keep exit doors free from clutter, assure safety guards remain on machinery, and equipment is turned off or disconnected prior to cleaning and at the end of each shift.

Prepare young workers for emergencies.

Every worker needs to be ready to handle an emergency. You should prepare your young workers to escape a fire, handle potentially violent customers, deal with power outages—or face any other risks affecting your business. Youths also need to know who to go to if an injury should occur and they need first aid or medical care.

 Set up a safety and health program.

A strong safety and health program involving every worker at your business is your best defense against workplace injuries, for young and old. For help in establishing or improving a safety and health program, contact OSHA directly or go to their website.


Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.

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