According to NIOSH, young workers (ages 15-24) are twice as likely to visit an emergency department because of a work-related injury compared to workers over age 25. Workers under 18 are considered especially vulnerable for experiencing work-related injuries and fatalities. Many seasonal jobs are filled with teenagers as temporary employees. For most of these young workers, it is their first employment experience. Municipalities need to make coordinated action plans for young worker safety and health.
Young workers have limited or no prior work experience, and a lack of safety training can lead to workplace injuries for these workers. A municipality employer should set a foundation of safety and health knowledge and skills that young workers can use throughout their lives. Employers are responsible for providing job-specific training, and WCF Insurance can work with municipality employers to help them fulfill their important roles in preparing young workers to be safe.
According to NIOSH, young workers most often get hurt because of:
- Performing work that they aren’t trained for and sometimes without being asked.
- Inappropriate supervision.
- Working with dangerous tools.
- Performing tasks that violate youth employment laws.
OSHA adds that young workers also get hurt because of pressure to work faster or under stressful conditions.
Child labor laws restrict the types of jobs that youth under age 18 can have and the hours they can work. It is the municipality’s responsibility to understand and follow applicable federal, state, and local child labor laws. Many young workers are also temporary workers. When it comes to training and providing for safety and health, temporary workers must be treated the same as permanent workers.
In most situations, minors (under 18) are prohibited from driving motor vehicles or serving as outside helpers on such vehicles on any public road or highway. Employees who are 16 and under may not drive motor vehicles on public roads as part of their jobs, even if they have a valid state driver’s license, and 17-year-old employees may drive cars and small trucks on public roads as part of their jobs only in limited circumstances.
Ensure that equipment operated by young workers is both legal and safe for them to use. Identify and label prohibited equipment and tools in work areas where young workers could be present.
First-line supervisors have the greatest opportunity to protect young workers and influence their work habits. Ensure that young workers receive training to recognize hazards and are competent in safe work practices. Training should be in a language and vocabulary that young workers can understand. Encourage young workers to speak up and ask questions about unsafe tasks or procedures they are unclear about or don’t understand. Train young workers about what to do if they are injured on the job.
The following list includes common workplace hazards young workers may encounter when working for a municipality:
- Janitorial/Cleanup/Maintenance – hazardous chemicals, slippery floors, heavy lifting, blood or discarded needles, electricity, vehicles
- Office/Clerical – repetitive hand motion, back and neck strain, stress
- Outdoor Work – sun exposure, heat, landscaping, pesticides and chemicals, machinery and vehicles, electricity, heavy lifting, noise
- Construction – falls, machines, tools, hazardous materials, confined spaces, electricity, struck-by hazards, vehicles, harmful noise exposure, non-standard work arrangements
- Transportation/Warehousing/Utilities – transportation- and machine-related injuries
- Lifeguard – strains/sprains, heat, sun exposure, bloodborne pathogens, chemicals, fatigue