Young workers at higher risk of injury

The government’s target of three million apprentices by 2020 is set to challenge the employers taking them on. Aside from how everything will be paid for, they also need to be aware of the increased Health & Safety risks surrounding young people.

Clearly youngsters lack experience. They are less aware of workplace risks and more vulnerable than older more wary colleagues. There are fears employers will struggle to manage the increased risks associated with apprentices as their numbers increase.

Nearly one million apprentices
House of Commons figures show 871,800 people were on apprenticeships in England in 2014/15. More women (264,800) than men (235,100) started in that year. Many may not realise that not all apprentices are youngsters as over 24’s can now start apprenticeships. In 2014/15, those aged 25+ accounted for 43% of starts with 19–24’s making up 32% and under 19’s accounting for 25%. Almost one in 10 had learning difficulties.

Risky business?
Unfortunately, there’s very little data on apprentice injury and most studies look at rates for young workers rather than apprentices.

According to a 2010 Health & Safety Executive survey, the risk of workplace injury for male 16-24’s is substantially higher than for older men:

  • 37% higher for 16–19’s
  • More than 70% higher in 20-24’s.

Even if you allow for different job characteristics, male 16-24’s still face a 40% higher risk of injury than 45-54’s. There is a less obvious link between age and injury for females but again, inexperience and immaturity apply. Risk factors include:

  • inadequate supervision
  • poor training, information or instruction
  • working beyond ability
  • lack of experience
  • little risk awareness
  • lack of judgement
  • immaturity
  • over-enthusiasm.

What must employers do?
Employers owe apprentices the same Health & Safety duties as they do others. However, under 18’s benefit from added protection under the:

  • Working Time Regulations 1998 which restrict working hours
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 which say young persons must not be employed unless employers have made or reviewed a Health & Safety risk assessment.

Young people are more vulnerable than adults to physical, biological and chemical hazards. By law, they must not work beyond their physical or mental ability or be exposed to:

  • toxic or cancer-causing substances
  • radiation
  • extreme heat, noise or vibration
  • risks they are unlikely to recognise.

The regulations do not apply to workers above school leaving age if:

  • the work is necessary for training
  • competently and properly supervised
  • risks are reduced to the lowest reasonably practicable level.

The Management Regulations define a young person as anyone under 18. They state risk assessments must take into account their inexperience, lack of risk awareness and immaturity.

The HSE’s 2013 revised guidance (INDG364) on young workers advises employers to “Simply use your existing arrangements for assessing and managing risks to young people.” The revision was part of the government’s drive to slash rules. It claimed employers are hampered by thinking they have to do special risk assessments for young people.

Handle with care
Employers are best placed to decide whether they need to do anything extra before a young person joins them.

If you currently employ someone young or have recently done so, your existing arrangements for assessing and managing the risks should be sufficient, provided the new starter has broadly the same level of maturity and understanding, and no specific needs.

However, if you employ a youngster for the first time or one with specific needs, you will need to review your risk assessment and take into account the particular young person’s characteristics before they start.

In a low-risk office environment this should be straightforward. But in environments such as manufacturing the risks are greater and will need more careful attention.

You should thoroughly assess the workplace risks facing your apprentices.

Contact Ellis Whittam to make sure your apprentice doesn’t get you fired!