Young workers and OHS

Statistics in Victoria and elsewhere in Australia and the world are stark and clear. Young workers between the ages of 15 and 25 are being hurt or killed on the job every day. Young workers lack experience and are generally unfamiliar with workplace procedures.  Too often they don't know what their rights are, are too frightened to speak up and are less likely to belong to a union. 

If you are or know a young person who is having OHS or other problems in the workplace:

  • contact your/their union
  • contact the Young Workers Centre at Trades Hall - a one-stop-shop for young workers who want to learn more about their rights at work or who need assistance in resolving workplace issues. Our team of lawyers, organisers, educators and researchers seek to empower young people working in Victoria with the knowledge and skills needed to end workplace exploitation and insecurity.

More information on young people and OHS:

From WorkSafe Victoria:

  • Safety Information Topic webpage Young Workers
  • Keeping Children Safe In The Workplace   Children in Victoria under the age of 15 may be employed in Victorian workplaces under the Child Employment Act (CE Act) 2003. Due to their age, stage of physical and emotional development and their inexperience, children are the most vulnerable employees in Victorian workplaces.  This 15 page publication has been developed to assist those in workplaces where children work or visit, to identify hazards and implement safety controls to prevent injuries.
  • Safe-T1 - a partnership between WorkSafe and the Victorian Applied Learning Association aimed at providing young people and their teachers with health and safety information.

From the Victorian Department of Education

  • [email protected]  -  a health and safety resource package for secondary school students undertaking work experience.

From other Australian jurisdictions:

  • From the Fair Work Australia Workplace Ombudsman - a number of Best Practice Guides  for the workplace, including "A guide for young workers" and "An employer's guide to employing young workers"
  • NSW WorkCover - Young Workers:  From this page you can access a number of interactive websites (including industry specific ones such as hospitality, etc, leaflets, guidance and factsheets. From this page there's access to a number of resources funded by WorkCover NSW:
    • developed by Group Training NSW and YouthSafe NSW, a resource, which helps employers better engage with young workers and meet their health and safety obligations. Launched in September 2010, the resource aims to reduce the high injury rate among workers aged between 15 and 25.
    • Also developed by YouthSafe NSW in partnership with the Australian Retailers Association: In Working Order  contains a DVD, lesson plans and fact sheets. The website and DVD assists teachers, employers, supervisors and parents to develop young people's understanding of workplace safety rights and responsibilities; recognising, assessing and managing workplace hazards; and communication and negotiation skills for the workplace.
  • From SafeWork SA:
  • From Western Australia:
  • From Queensland: the Young Worker Safety Toolkit [pdf] There is also a Code of Practice Children and Young Workers (2006) [pdf] This code assists employers in managing the specific workplace health and safety risks associated with having children and young workers in the workplace. It identifies a number of hazards that can pose particular risks to young workers when compared with more experienced workers, including manual tasks, noise, chemicals, workplace violence, workplace harassment, industrial equipment and machinery. It also emphasises the importance of training and induction programs for young workers and highlights specific needs for employers.  

  • From the SafeWork Australia website:

    • a guide Getting Students to Work Safely  – which outlines six key principles for teaching health and safety to students preparing to enter the workplace. The guiding principles are aimed at educators and education policy makers; it also provides references for educators to relevant resources in each state and territory.  

    • Young Workers - a collection of seminars focused on creating a safe work environment for young workers 

From Unions:  

  • From the ACTU Worksite for Schools - Your rights at work information for students and young people.

From overseas:

From the UK's Trades Union Congress

  • Health and Safety For Apprentices: This website has information, including Apprenticeships: A short guide for union safety representatives -  which advises OHS reps on how to ensure that employers provide apprentices and other trainees with a safe and healthy working environment and adequate support and training.   It includes information on the role of OHS reps and delivering apprentice safety programs.  In the UK most of the fatalities involving apprentices were avoidable and in many cases there was inadequate supervision and a lack of risk assessment. 

    A checklist recommends action including: Encouraging young workers and trainees to join the union; making young workers a standing item on the safety committee agenda; ensuring young workers have the extra legal protection afforded by the law; checking there is adequate supervision; making sure young workers have the necessary induction and ongoing safety training; and making sure safety reps are consulted on issues related to the recruitment and employment of young workers.
  • Too Young to Die  a special Hazards magazine report that includes a number of tragic case studies ranging from a 17 year old boy who fell to his death from unsafe scaffolding to teenagers suffering serious burns and amputations in workplace accidents that could have been avoided.  The report also sets out the legal protections that employers, young workers and their parents should be aware of.

The UK's HSE, the government authority on OHS, has a website: Young people at work. It explores the key issues to take into account when assessing the risks to young people at work. It is regularly updated.

From Canada 

  • Young Workers - New Workers - a 'gateway' to health and safety for new workers.  This site includes lots of information and faqs for young people.

  • Young Workers at Risk - from Work Safe British Colombia, this site has resources for young workers, parents, employers, supervisors, unions, educators, youth and comminity groups, and speakers. It includes video clips for download and examples of accidents to young workers.

  • Also from WorkSafeBC the  Listen to your gut campaign - a campaign aimed at young people just starting work. It says: "If you get a gut feeling that something isn’t safe, or you don’t know how to do your job safely, listen to your instincts and talk to your manager about it. It could save your life or the life of your co-worker." It includes videos of young people, Q & As on knowing their rights, resources and facts and figures. 

  • From the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) Basic Teaching Tools for Young Workers. These are on a range of subjects and can be downloaded free. Also available for purchase are comprehensive tools.

From the US: Young Workers Summer Job Safety Various resources for students etc. who have taken a summer job. Includes construction, farm, gardening, catering and life guard work.

More resources, from many different countries, can be accessed through a website of resource and links from the European Agency on Health and Safety at Work Young People. The Agency has produced a number of factsheets:

An Agency magazine, Safe Start [pdf] , includes articles describing experiences of those who have been working to keep young employees safe, 'mainstreaming' OHS issues in schools education and vocational training,  and more.

Also from EU-OHSA - a 'wiki' page on Young workers which covers legislation in the EU, risks faced by young workers, and the role of employers, unions and the workers themselves.

Also check out the Napo films on safety: :Safety with a smile"  - ideal for a young audience and for all new entrants to the labour market, including migrant and temporary workers. The role of Napo and his friends is to provide an appetiser to OHS through their engaging characters, amusing story lines, humour and light-hearted approach. New episodes are produced regularly. "Safety with a smile" is Napo's contribution to safer, healthier and better workplaces.

Last amended April 2020