Keep teens safe on the job this summer

intern taking notesSummer is in full swing, and the teens you hired for the season are working out just fine. But don’t be too complacent. Teen workers’ inexperience and possible discomfort with asking questions could result in accidents and injuries.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) suggests that employers take the following four steps to help prepare young workers to work safely.

1. Double-check tasks. What may be obvious to an adult employee may not be so clear to a teen tackling a task for the first time. Train youths to work safely by:

  • Giving them clear instructions and telling them what safety precautions to take
  • Asking them to repeat your instructions and giving them an opportunity to ask questions
  • Showing them how to perform the task
  • Watching them as they do it, and correcting any mistakes
  • Asking if they have any additional questions.

Once young workers know what to do and have demonstrated that they can do the job right, check again later 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 co-workers set a good example by following all the appropriate rules as well.

2. Show them how to use safety equipment. Although young workers are prohibited from performing certain tasks and using certain equipment, this does not eliminate every hazard. Some youth may still need to wear personal protective equipment such as safety shoes, hard hats, or gloves, depending on the nature of the work. Be sure that the teens know:

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  • When they need to wear protective gear
  • Where to find it
  • How to use it
  • How to care for it.

In other cases, young workers may simply need to know about safety features of equipment or facilities.

3. Prepare them 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 that affect your business. Youths also need to know whom to go to if an injury should occur and they need first aid or medical care.

4. Set up a safety and health program. A strong safety and health program in­­volving every worker at your organization is your best defense against workplace injuries. For help in establishing or improving a safety and health program, check out OSHA’s young workers resource page.

The DOL has published examples of compliance ideas that are being used successfully by employers across the country:

  • Different colored vests are issued to employees under the age of 18 by one chain of convenience stores. That way, supervisors know who is not allowed to operate the electric meat slicer.
  • An employer in the quick service in­­dustry, with over 8,000 young ­­workers, developed a computerized tracking system to ensure that workers under 16 years of age are not scheduled for too many hours during school weeks.
  • One supermarket issues teens a laminated, pocket-sized “Minor Policy Card” on the first day of work. The card explains the firm’s policy and requirements for complying with the youth employment rules.
  • Some employers place special “warning stickers” on equipment that young workers may not legally operate or clean.

Online resource: For more information on teens in the workforce, visit the DOL’s YouthRules! website.