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Human Resources, Safety

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Hiring Teen Workers: Beware, Be Wise

If you currently employ younger workers, then you are not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. employers hire approximately 2.2 million students between the ages 14-18 who work an average of 17 hours a week. Once you as an employer decide to hire someone from this age group, you must recognize that while teenagers are eager to prove themselves, they are very inexperienced. Therefore, it is important that employers address safety issues frequently even if the same teenagers are hired year after year. Injuries to younger workers tend to be more serious than to older workers. In 1999, these young workers visited hospitals about 84,000 times with approximately 65 percent of these visits requiring a minimum of one day off work. Furthermore, there were 37 work-related fatalities among 16 and 17-year-olds in 2004, according to BLS.

Two laws enforced by the Department of Labor (DOL) to protect adolescent workers are the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). The FLSA and state laws provide child labor provisions that were designed to protect minors by restricting the types of jobs and the number of hours they may work. OSHA requires that employers provide a safe and healthful work environment.

The following are some recommendations an employer should consider implementing when employing teenagers:

  • Review the worksite to eliminate identified hazards and ensure jobs are as safe as possible.
  • Provide training to ensure that adolescents recognize hazards and are competent in safe work practices.
  • Provide appropriate supervisors who recognize hazards and are competent in safe work practices.
  • Routinely verify through supervision that teens continue to recognize hazards and use safe work practices.
  • Stress the importance of safety, particularly among supervisors who have the greatest opportunity to influence teens and their work habits.
  • Implement a mentoring or “buddy system” for new youth workers.
  • Encourage teens to ask questions about tasks or procedures.
  • Discipline and/or retrain when necessary.

Finally, remember to be aware of the unique aspects of communicating with teens. Safety, patience, and communication are three key aspects of any successful employer/employee relationship.

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