May 30, 2014

Work experience – An untapped resource?

With the academic year at an end, employers may be considering taking on work experience students.

Many employers have considerable experience of successfully employing young people or taking on work experience students.

Employers have found employing work experience students can benefit the company. If as an employer you currently do not employ work experience students, or have not done so in the last few years or are taking on a work experience student for the first time you may need to review your health and safety arrangements.

Work experience students should be treated no different then any other employee however there are a few additional areas you will need to consider due to work experience students immaturity and lack of knowledge regarding risk.

What is the legal age for work experience students and young workers?

  • A young person is anyone under 18 and
  • A child is anyone who has not yet reached the official minimum school leaving age (MSLA) – pupils will reach the MSLA in the school year in which they turn 16.

Taking on work experience students should be straightforward for placement providers (employers).  It should not be about generating unnecessary paperwork.  As an employer you will need to review your health and safety arrangements; simply use your existing  health and safety arrangements for evaluating the risk, it is not necessary to carry out individual risk assessment for students of a similar nature and age, physical and psychological capacity.

Keep any additional health and safety paper work in proportion to the working environment:

Workers are at particular risk of injury in the first six months of a job, when they are more likely to be unaware of existing or potential risks.  Young people will often be in this category.

Everyone who works for you needs to know how to work safely and without risks to health. As an employer, giving your workers the right information, instruction, training and necessary competence level is not only a legal duty but can also contribute to the success of your business.

For placements in low-risk environments, such as offices or shops, with everyday risks that will mostly be familiar to the student, your existing arrangements for other employees should suffice.

For environments with risks less familiar to the student (e.g. in light assembly or packing facilities), you will need to make arrangements to manage the risks.  This will need to include induction, supervision, site familiarisation and any protective equipment needed.

For a placement in a higher-risk environment such as construction, agriculture and manufacturing you will need to consider what work the student will be doing or observing, the risks involved and how these are managed.

The induction process should set out safe working practices roles and responsibility, with a guided tour of the workplace highlighting emergency exits, first aid and welfare facilities and an introduction to other colleagues.  Information is to be easy to understand and follow in relation to the hazards and risks, the controls in place to control the risks and how to follow any emergency procedures the young workers may face.

As an employer, in addition to your health and safety responsibilities to all your employees, you are responsible for ensuring a young person is not exposed to risk due to:

  • Lack of experience
  • Being unaware of existing or potential risks
  • Lack of maturity
  • The job or activity
  • The existing competence of workers
  • The circumstances of the work (e g degree of supervision)
  • The work equipment and competency training to use equipment etc.

Satisfy yourself that the instruction, training and supervisory arrangements have been properly thought through and that they work in practice you may, in particular for higher-risk environments, need to consider specific factors that must be managed for young people, including exposure to radiation, noise and vibration, toxic substances, or extreme temperatures. Where these specific factors exist in your workplace, you should already have control measures in place.

Ensure that all persons who use work equipment have received adequate training for the safe operation of the equipment and, in particular where inexperienced young persons may be expected to operate equipment.  Risks entailed in the precautions are to be taken into account especially when factors are present which limit the age of the user; some work equipment and machinery (e.g. forklift trucks and some woodworking machinery) will have factors which limit the users age, so you will need to consider whether you need to do anything further to control the risks to young people.

As we have said there are a lot of young work students ready and eager for employment over the summer period and as long as you have robust and effective health and safety arrangements in place there should be no reason not to employ young inexperienced people.

Common young people myths

  • Under 18s cannot be employed on construction sites for work or work experience
  • Schools and colleges, or those organising work experience placements on their behalf, such as Education Business Partnerships, have to carry out workplace checks before sending students on work experience placements and staff carrying out these checks must meet prescribed levels of occupational competence or qualification
  • A separate risk assessment is required for work experience students
  • Schools, colleges and those organising work experience placements on their behalf, such as Education Business Partnerships, must visit all workplaces in advance of a student starting a work experience placement (HSE).

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