August 30, 2013

Employment Of Children In The Workplace

Your Health & Safety guide to children in the workplace.

At any time it is important for families to achieve a good work life balance and to keep children safe. This is even more important with school holiday periods approaching. The employer’s role in achieving this goal is key and the following situations may arise:

Employment of Children in the Workplace

A child is defined as anyone under the Minimum School Leaving Age (MSLA). This is just before or after the 16th birthday. Children under 13 years of age are generally prohibited from any form of employment. Local authorities have powers to make bylaws on the types of work and hours of work that children aged between 13 years and the MSLA can do. However it is possible for children below these age limits to be licensed by the Local Authority to take part in performances.

The employer must assess the activities that the child will be involved in and inform the parents/guardians of the key risks and controls that have been introduced before the child starts work or work experience. Generally children below the MSLA must not be employed in industrial undertakings such as factories, construction sites etc except when on approved work experience schemes.

Children must not be exposed to work involving the following types of risk:

  • Work beyond their physical or psychological capacity;
  • Exposure to substances chronically harmful to human health
  • Exposure to radiation;
  • Work involving a risk of accidents which they are unlikely to recognise because of lack of experience, training or sufficient attention to safety;
  • Environmental risks to their health from extreme heat, noise or vibration.

The employer will also require written parental consent for anyone under the MSLA before commencement of work or work experience.

Employees bringing Children into the Workplace

There may be times when a parent wants to bring a child into the workplace for urgent or necessary reasons. This could be at times when there are problems with childcare arrangements or perhaps just for a “quick visit”. Before an employer adopts a “family friendly” policy to allow young children onto company property, a risk assessment should be carried out to ensure that any additional risks are being adequately managed.

Safety arrangements that are perfectly satisfactory for adults may not be suitable for young children. It is also important to consider risks which other employees may be exposed to as a result of bringing children on to site. For instance natural curiosity or boredom may lead a child to press a button, pull a lever or inadvertently wander into an unauthorised area.

Note: Company property also extends to company vehicles. Before allowing children to accompany parents in company vehicles during normal working hours (eg in school holidays) employers should:

  • Assess the possible hazards and precautions to be taken.
  • Give permission for the parent/employee to do this.
  • Ensure that the company vehicle insurance allows for its use in this way.

There is no guarantee that children will comply with company health and safety rules that are normally understood and complied with by adults. However there will be many workplaces such as nurseries, shops, play areas that are “child friendly”. Even in these circumstances consequences and precautions should be properly assessed.

Children Playing/Trespassing in Workplaces

With the school summer holidays approaching, children in pursuit of adventurous activities may well be tempted to trespass into restricted areas such as construction sites, quarries or other hazardous areas. This is therefore an appropriate time for employers to ensure that security precautions relating to the guarding of dangerous areas (eg signage warning of hazards and perimeter fencing) are checked and properly maintained to prevent/deter unauthorised access.

This is a regulatory requirement. The Occupiers Liability Act 1957 requires an occupier to be prepared for children to be less careful than adults; The Occupiers Liability Act 1984 builds on this and also requires occupiers to take into account the health and safety of trespassers.

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