Young People in the Workplace

Last reviewed on 14/10/2013 14:41

This page gives advice on safe and healthy practices relating to young people in the workplace, including guidance for employers who provide work experience for those under the age of 18.

You will also find details of legal duties and obligations, and links to further information.

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Why give special consideration to young people in the workplace?

Because of their age, immaturity, and inexperience, young people could be at greater risk in the workplace.

When they are new to the workplace, they will encounter unfamiliar risks from the work they carry out, and from the working environment.

Employers must ensure that they assess the risks to young persons and make sure they put in place controls to reduce the risks.


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Definitions of 'young person' and 'child'

The following definitions for ‘young people’ and ‘children’ are used in relation to legislation and the workplace:

  • a 'child' is defined as a person who is not over compulsory school age. In general terms, this means five to sixteen years. However, the sixteenth birthday does not necessarily coincide with the end of compulsory school age.
  • school leaving age in Scotland is reached on either 31 May or the start of the Christmas holidays (or 21 December) for children who reach 16, depending on their date of birth. (Section 33 Education ( Scotland) Act 1980).
  • a 'young person' is defined as a person who has not reached the age of 18.


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Legal duties and obligations around young people

The Health and Safety (Young Persons) Regulations 1997 were incorporated into an amendment of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations in 1999. The amendment consolidated the regulations that had been introduced over that period. The 1999 Regulations require employers to:

  • assess risks to all young people under 18 years of age, before they start work
  • ensure the risk assessment takes into account their psychological or physical immaturity, inexperience, and lack of awareness of risks
  • introduce control measures to eliminate or minimise the risks, so far as is reasonably practicable
  • provide certain information to employees and to the parents/guardians of children.

Two exemptions to the requirements of the 1997 Regulations are:

  1. occasional or short-term work in a family undertaking where the work is not considered harmful, damaging or dangerous to young persons
  2. domestic service within a private household.

There are a number of restrictions on the employment of children.

An employer may be prosecuted for employing a child. If in doubt concerning the correct age of a child or young person, the employer should either demand to see a copy of that person's birth certificate, or other evidence of their age.

To view the full text of the above legislation online, please follow the links under Legislation.


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The Working Time Regulations 1998

The European Union Working Time Directive is represented in UK law by the Working Time Regulations. The directive places controls on the hours that can be worked by a young person.

Under the working time directive, young people:

  • may not work between the hours of 10.00pm and 6.00am unless they have had a health assessment prior to commencing such work and regularly thereafter
  • are entitled to a daily rest period of 12 consecutive hours in any 24 hour period
  • are entitled to an un-interrupted weekly rest period of 2 days (consecutive days where possible) in every 7 day period – this may be interrupted by justifiable short periods of work, although the rest period must not be shortened to less than 36 hours
  • working for more than 4½ hours are entitled to a 30 minute daily rest break which should be taken consecutively where possible
  • are entitled to four weeks paid leave per year after a qualifying period of three months employment.

For more information on The Working Time Regulations, see our page on Working Time.


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Work experience and training

Children who are in their last year of compulsory schooling usually participate in work placement schemes approved by the Local Education Authority. This usually takes the form of a one-week placement.

The Education Act 1996 places certain limitations on the type of work. It prohibits work experience where the work concerned is subject to a statutory restriction based on age limits. There may also be local by-laws prohibiting certain work for anyone under 16 years of age.

Your Local Education Authority manages the work experience scheme and often carries out visits prior to placements to look at your health and safety arrangements.

Many colleges and other training providers also have schemes where young persons take part in work experience of varying duration with employers.

The Health and Safety (Training for Employment) Regulations state that those receiving relevant training should be treated as employees for the purposes of health and safety legislation.

Relevant training means work experience provided as part of a training course or programme, or training for employment, or both.


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Assessing risks to young people in the workplace

Employers may not take young persons into their employment unless:

  • a risk assessment has been carried out
  • an existing assessment is reviewed, in order to ensure that any risks to those young persons are identified and addressed.

Where young persons are already employed, the existing risk assessments must be reviewed accordingly. When assessing or reviewing the risks to young persons, employers must take the following factors into account:

  • the inexperience and immaturity of young persons
  • their lack of awareness of risks to their health and safety
  • the fitting out and layout of their work station and workplace
  • the nature, degree and duration of any exposure to biological, chemical or physical agents
  • the form, range, use and handling of work equipment
  • the way in which processes and activities are organised
  • any health and safety training given or intended to be given.

Read more on Risk Assessment Download Healthy Working Lives' Risk Assessment Form Download Risk Assessment Form – Worked Example


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Specific risks associated with agents, processes and work

Particular attention should be paid to the risks associated with the agents, processes and work listed below:

  • ionising radiation
  • work in high pressure atmospheres
  • biological agents belonging to category groups 3 and 4
  • chemical agents which are classified as: toxic, very toxic, corrosive or explosive

Harmful substances with one or more of the following risk phrases:

  • R39 – danger of very serious irreversible effects
  • R40 ­– possible risk of irreversible effects
  • R42 – may cause sensitisation by inhalation
  • R43 – may cause sensitisation by skin contact
  • R45 – may cause cancer
  • R46 – may cause heritable genetic damage
  • R48 – danger of serious damage to health by prolonged exposure
  • R60 – may impair fertility
  • R61 – may cause harm to the unborn child

Irritant substances with one or more of the following risk phrases:

  • R12 – highly flammable
  • R42 – may cause sensitisation by inhalation
  • R43 – may cause sensitisation by skin contact
  • carcinogens (and certain related work processes)
  • lead and lead compounds
  • asbestos
  • manufacture and handling of fireworks and other explosive devices
  • work involving fierce or poisonous animals
  • industrial animal slaughtering
  • the handling of equipment for the production, storage and use of compressed, liquefied or dissolved gases
  • work in vats, tanks, reservoirs or carboys containing any of the chemical agents listed above
  • work where there is a risk of collapsing structures
  • work involving high voltage electricity
  • work where the pace of the work is controlled by machinery and payment is based on results.

In summary, young persons should not be expected to do:

  • work beyond their physical (manual handling) or psychological capabilities (decision making)
  • work involving harmful exposure to radiation
  • work involving risks to health from noise, vibration or extreme heat/cold
  • work involving harmful exposure to any agents that can chronically affect them.

It is also good practice to include a review of the young person's current state of health and look at other personal factors, which may influence the risk assessment process.


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Training and instruction for young people in the workplace

Employers must ensure that all young people starting work are given general instruction in health and safety matters in an induction session that is geared to new employees who may not have worked in the industry since leaving school.

In many cases, employers provide increased levels of supervision and support to young persons during the early stages of employment, until they are satisfied that the young persons appreciate the risks they are likely to encounter in the workplace.


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Further information on young people in the workplace

Email your query now
Call our Adviceline on 0800 019 2211

Young Workers (external link)
This page from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has information on young people and work and many useful links and downloads, including the TUC's own guidance and The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents’ Managing the Health and Safety of Young Workers.

Free resources from Healthy Working Lives
Links below are to publications pages giving options to download these resources:

Risk Assessment Form
Risk Assessment Form – Worked Example

Free guidance from the Health and Safety Executive
Note - all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to download or order these resources:

The Right Start. Work experience for young people: Health and Safety basics for employers INDG364 (external site)

Priced guidance from the Health and Safety Executive
Note – all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to order these resources:

Young People at Work – a guide for employers HSG165 (external site)

Young people in the workplace - your questions


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View The Health and Safety (Young Persons) Regulations 1997 (external site).


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