Health and safety law with young workers – what you need to know 

The law says that between school leaving age and 18, a young person in England [the rules will be different for other countries in the UK] must do one of the following: 

  • stay in full-time education, for example at a college; 
  • start an apprenticeship or traineeship; 
  • spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training. 

Therefore, it will not be uncommon to see a young person in the workplace; more so for some employment sectors than others.  

If you employ a young person, it’s important to remember that there are special health and safety rules that you must observe to keep them safe in the workplace. Failure to do so can be costly.  

In 2021, a 16-year-old boy suffered serious injuries after becoming trapped under a tractor while on paid work experience with a construction and plant hire company, ahead of hopefully starting a vehicle maintenance course at college.  

He was driving a tractor down an incline when it came off the track and overturned.  He was alone and the tractor did not have a seat belt fitted.  He was thrown out of his seat and his upper leg was trapped under the roof of the tractor. He was found by passers-by who called for assistance, and he was taken to hospital.  

An investigation by the HSE found that the company had failed to adequately protect the young man through a failure of supervision, and by not providing him with adequate information, instruction and training. 

When the case came before the Magistrates’ Court, the company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.  They were ordered to pay a fine of £50,000 and costs of £9,223. 

What does the law say?    

Let’s start by looking at some legal definitions. A young person is anyone under the age of 18. A child is anyone who has not reached the school leaving age, which is 16 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  

Health and safety law  

As you will doubtless be aware, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, you have a duty to ensure the health and safety of your employees and others affected by the work they do, so far as is reasonably practicable. But additionally, you will have specific obligations towards the young people in your workforce.  The law says that they must not be exposed to risk arising from them:  

  • lacking experience or maturity; 
  • being unaware of existing or potential risks. 

The risk assessment 

As well as the risk assessments you carry out for all your workers, you are required to carry out a separate one for young people in the workplace.  

There are several specific issues that you need to consider when carrying out this risk assessment. They are: 

  • the layout of the workplace; 
  • temperature, noise levels and vibrations to which the young person may be exposed; 
  • physical, biological and chemical agents to which they may be exposed; 
  • how the work and processes are organised, and whether they can reasonably follow those processes;  
  • the extent of health and safety training needed; 
  • whether the work is beyond a young person’s physical. intellectual or psychological capacity;  
  • whether a young person is more likely to have an accident due to their inexperience. 


Given the foregoing, you may well have found that the young people in your workforce need to be supervised in their roles.  

This is generally a good idea as you can find out how they go about their work and make ongoing adjustments to keep them safe.  

However, supervision is not a job that just anyone can do; a supervisor must be a competent person and able to work closely with young people. When selecting someone to supervise, be honest about their abilities and qualifications before appointing them to the job.    

As with all issues of health and safety, if you are unsure about how to manage the safety of young people in your workplace, don’t wait till there is an incident – seek advice and guidance from an expert health and safety advisor who can walk you through the steps you need to keep your business legally compliant.