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July 20, 2010

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Managing the risks of young, seasonal workers

With thousands of students getting ready to embark on temporary jobs during their summer holidays, Phil Grace reminds businesses of the importance of identifying and managing the additional risks associated with employing young seasonal workers.

For many young people, summer jobs represent their induction into the UK workforce. During the season, industries such as farming and agriculture, retail and leisure, catering, and manufacturing can be busier than usual and thus require more staff to cover the increased workload, or annual staff holidays. Businesses therefore need to be aware of all the risks associated with hiring temporary workers in busier periods and not be tempted to take shortcuts in basic health and safety training, just because these workers are not going to be around long-term.

All workers are at greater risk of accident and injury during the first few months of employment but the risk may be increased even more with young people, who may not have reached physical maturity, or lack the confidence to ask questions or seek clarification about the tasks they are expected to undertake.

According to the European Union,1 people employed on temporary contracts have less access to training and to participation in long-term competence development than workers with permanent contracts. They also have less job control in terms of the order of tasks, pace of work and work methods, and are less informed about risks at work.
European statistics on accidents at work also indicate that workers aged between 18 and 24 suffer more non-fatal accidents than any other age group.1 In all, workers under 24 account for around 17 per cent of all occupational accidents in the 15 Member States that contribute to the statistics. In the UK in 2008/09, 13 workers aged 16 to 24 lost their lives at work, while 15,263 suffered a major, or over-three-day injury.2

Be prepared

So, the combination of lack of experience of the world of work in general and unfamiliarity with the working environment in which they are placed specifically makes young temporary workers a very vulnerable group indeed. Business-owners and managers are therefore recommended to have a good system in place to help identify any problem areas and ensure that effective solutions are implemented.

A specific assessment of the risks to young and inexperienced workers should highlight the issues they face and help frame suitable controls, which can include:

  • Training – full training must be provided for all temporary workers so that they can fully appreciate the hazards;
  • Systems – employers should have a good system in place to help identify any problem areas and ensure that effective solutions are implemented;
  • Extra supervision – young people may require extra supervision to ensure that they have taken on board the full extent of the job in hand;
  • More detailed instructions – employers should never assume that a young worker will know anything about a role, particularly as this job may be their first experience of a real workplace;
  • Modifying the task – in some cases, it may be appropriate to alter what the worker is doing to reduce particular risks;
  • Mechanical equipment – full training on any equipment to be used in the role is especially important;
  • Help from existing employees – employers should ensure that their permanent staff understand the issues surrounding the employment of young or temporary staff. Full-timers should be involved in the management of risks and be encouraged to mentor and support younger workers;
  • The big outdoors – managers of temporary workers whose job takes them outdoors should encourage them to cover up in the sun, especially in the lunch hour when the sun is at its hottest.

Particular care must be taken in terms of assigning young temporary workers to tasks involving the operation of workplace transport. There are far too many examples of accidents in common seasonal industries in which teenage workers died, or were seriously injured while operating vehicles like quad bikes, all-terrain vehicles, and forklift trucks.

In 2006, for example, an adventure-park operator was fined £75,000 in 2006 over an incident in which a 17-year-old worker driving an all-terrain vehicle pulling a trailer full of people went out of control on a steep decline and rolled into a river.3 The boy had only received brief training the day before the accident, at Diggerland in Co. Durham, and there was no safety manual, or set of written instructions. Twelve of the 18 passengers were taken to hospital for treatment.

The HSE suggests it is a good idea to develop generic risk assessments for young people, adding that these could be useful for periods of temporary or transient work.4 The risk assessments could be modified to deal with particular work situations and any unacceptable risks. Obviously, the risk assessment will need to be reviewed if the nature of the work changes, or there is reason to believe that it is no longer valid.

If a significant risk remains in spite of best efforts to do what is reasonably practicable to control it, a young person must not be employed to do this type of work.

References
1    http://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/outlook/new-and-emerging-risks-in-occupational-safety-and-health-annexes
2    www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/demographic.htm
3    www.shponline.co.uk/incourt-content/full/fun-of-the-fair-turns-to-fear-at-three-theme-parks
4    www.hse.gov.uk/youngpeople/index.htm

Phil Grace is liability risk manager at Aviva.

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