Employers: Ten Tips to Keep Teen Workers Safe

May 12th, 2006 by Julie Ferguson

As young, first-time workers enter your workplace this spring and summer, it’s critical to redouble your efforts to ensure they work safely. Here are ten quick tips for employers, along with some resources for additional information.
Know the Law. Review federal, state, and local laws governing young workers, and ensure that your managers know them, too. Check work permits.
Make safety cool. Never underestimate a teen’s need to be cool! Remember how enormous peer pressure was for you in your teens? Teens may not think it’s cool to appear dumb by asking questions or wearing protective equipment. Break these barriers down!
Keep a sharp eye out. Watch your young workers closely for fatigue – they may not yet have the stamina of your experienced workers. Also watch for any signs of substance abuse and establish a zero tolerance standard.
Take a lesson from Madison Avenue. There’s a reason why advertising works – it repeats a message frequently and in different media. Make sure your safety message stays top of mind at all times. Stuff safety tip sheets in your paycheck envelopes, hang signs everywhere, offer small incentives for good safety suggestions.
Train, train, train! Don’t forget to make safety a number one priority in any training programs. State the policies and set expectations. Point out hazards, demonstrate things that could go wrong and be explicit. Teens have an illusion of immortality that you need to break through.
Buddy up. Pair a new teenage worker with an older more experienced worker for their first few days. Have the “safety mentor” check in on the teen frequently over the first few weeks of work. This will help to spread the responsibility throughout the workforce.
Get Mom & Dad involved. Send a letter to your new employees’ parents telling them about your company’s safety policies, and ask for their support in reinforcing the message.
Dress for success. Make your under-age workers visible to their co-workers in some readily identifiable way so everyone can look out for them. Give teens different colored name tags, uniforms or caps so that everyone can look out for them.
Hold managers responsible. Set your expectations with supervisors and managers, and schedule trainings in laws and issues related to teen workers. Make sure your expectations have teeth – put this important issue in performance reviews!
Walk the walk. Owners and senior managers need to set the example and live the commitment. Establish the priority in your organization. Walk through your workplace on unscheduled visits. Talk to teens one-on-one about safety and probe for questions or suggestions. Many teens may not yet be assertive enough to speak up with concerns. Correct hazards or unsafe behaviors immediately.
More resources
How safe are your favorite kids on their new jobs?
Workplace safety: the moral mandate of protecting young workers
Caution on summer hires
Summer hire turns tragic
Preventing Deaths, Injuries and Illnesses of Young Workers NIOSH
Do you employ young workers? OSHA
Young Workers NYCOSH