Remember Job Safety for Teens as Summer Hiring Season Begins

With the governor declaring May "Safe Jobs for Youth Month" and as the summer hiring season nears, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is urging employers to make job safety for teens a priority.

"The fact that teens under 18 are injured on the job twice as often as adults tells us there are special needs for teens in the workplace," said L&I Director Paul Trause. "We encourage employers to treat every young worker with the same care they would want their own kids to receive at work."

This means providing adequate training, following laws that prohibit teens from working with dangerous equipment and, in general, giving them extra supervision and lots of repetition, particularly when they're new to the job.

"Teens may not know the risks in your workplace unless you tell them," Trause said. "And they may be more reluctant than adults to speak up or ask questions. Risks that may be obvious and unacceptable to adults may not be obvious to teens, and they really do need their employers' help to stay safe."

According to L&I, nearly 50 percent of injuries to teens occur during the first six months on the job. While the majority of injuries are burns, cuts, slips and falls, some injuries result in lifelong disability or, worse, death. In the summer of 2003, three 16-year-olds in Washington died on the job. More than 1,100 other Washington teens filed workers' compensation claims as a result of injuries.

Teen-worker injuries like those across the country have declined in recent years in Washington, thanks to efforts by businesses, labor unions, schools, governmental agencies and other organizations.

Reported injuries for minors dropped nearly one-third during the past decade. From 1992 to 2003, L&I accepted more than 29,000 claims for work-related injuries to minors, in both agricultural and non-agricultural jobs.

Employers who want to hire teens need an updated master business license with a work endorsement for hiring minors, and a parent/school authorization form for the teen's work hours and job assignments. Some of the other rules for employers who hire teenage workers include:

  • In general, 14- and 15-year-olds may perform lighter tasks such as office work, cashiering and stocking shelves, bagging and carrying groceries, janitorial and grounds maintenance (without operating power mowers or cutters), and food service that does not involving cooking or baking duties.
  • Work assignments for 16- and 17-year-olds can be less restrictive. Their jobs may include such things as cooking, baking, landscaping, window washing (no more than 10 feet off the ground), maintenance and repair, and amusement-park work.
  • Generally, if safety equipment other than a hard hat, eye protection or gloves is required to do the job, then it's not an appropriate job for minors.
  • Fourteen- and 15-year-olds can work up to 40 hours a week while school is not in session; 16- and 17-year-olds can work up to 48 hours a week. Overtime-pay requirements would apply for hours worked over 40 in one week.
  • Agricultural rules prohibit all minors from working with certain chemicals, pesticides and explosives, and in other hazardous jobs. Additional restrictions, including operating equipment, apply to minors under age 16.
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