Construction companies are looking for summer help to fill the void left by the latest recession. One plausible solution has been hiring student workers. While this may seem like an economical choice, it is important to understand that minors between the ages of 15 and 17 employed in construction have a seven times greater chance of being fatally injured than their peers working in other industries, according to the Department of Labor (DOL).
The DOL imposes restrictions on the type of work and number of hours that minors are permitted to perform in construction. If looking to employ a minor, you will need to become familiar with regulations to comply with federal law. States may have stricter laws, so consult your local jurisdiction before beginning employment.
In addition to understanding the laws, construction companies should also enact safety precautions that will further minimize risk on the jobsite. After all, frequent and severe injuries can lead to devastating claims that will impact insurance costs, bidding opportunities and often offset the savings experienced by employing minors.
Know the Laws
According to the DOL, the following are some of the restrictions construction companies need to know when considering the employment of a minor.
Minors Under 16 Years of Age
Those under the age of 16 must only perform office or sales work in the construction industry. They may not be employed on a construction site. The federal rules also limit the number of hours and times of day that such youth may be employed.
Minors Age 16 and 17
Those employed at ages 16 or 17 may work on construction sites, but there are several tasks or jobs that are deemed too hazardous for them to perform, such as:
- Working in occupations involving mixing, handling or transporting of explosive compounds
- Driving a motor vehicle or working as an outside helper (17 year olds may only drive automobiles and trucks on an incidental and occasional basis if certain criteria is met)
- Riding on most construction elevators and operating or assisting in the operation of cranes, hoists, forklifts, Bobcat loaders, front end loaders, backhoes and skid steer loaders
- Loading, operating and unloading most trash compactors and balers
- Operating power-driven woodworking machines and metal forming, punching and shearing machines
- Operating power-driven circular saws, band saws, chain saws, reciprocating saws, guillotine shears, wood chippers and abrasive cutting discs
- Working in wrecking, demolition and shipbreaking
- Working in roofing and on a roof
- Working in excavation
The above is not a complete list of hazardous occupations for 16- and 17-year-olds. Note that there are some exceptions provided for apprentices and student learners.
Over the Age of 18
Individuals age 18 and older may perform any work in construction.
Know the Hazards
There are six main hazards all new and inexperienced workers should be aware of in the industry before starting a construction job—no matter if your new hires are 16, 18, or 40+ years old. Training and safety programs should be universal and comprehensive, whether employees are only working in certain areas or across the whole jobsite.
- Machines and tools—Moving machine parts have the potential to cause severe injuries. Any machine part, function or process that may cause injury must be safeguarded. Teens under the age 18 should not be using this equipment, but it is important to be aware of the dangers, regardless of age.
- Confined spaces—There are many instances in which workers must squeeze in and out of narrow openings and perform tasks while cramped or contorted. Suffocation is a main concern when doing these jobs.
- Electrocution—Overhead power lines are a concern when working in construction. They carry tens of thousands of volts of electricity. Certain equipment (such as aluminum paint rollers or metal ladders) conducts electricity and can be fatal.
- Falls—Falling is one of the most common causes of death for construction workers. Fall protection is vital when working at heights above six feet.
- Struck-by—Another common cause of death is being struck by an object or vehicle. It is important that minors and experienced workers alike pay close attention to alarms and horns when on the jobsite.
- Caught-between—Be sure that employees stay alert when working around large objects. Being crushed is a very real hazard on a construction site.
There are several simple solutions that you can apply internally to create a safer environment for your new workers. Read the following for some creative safety ideas developed by employees on the jobsite.
- Inform supervisors and adult workers of the tasks that teens should not be performing. Ensure that a supervisor is on duty and aware of each minor or inexperienced worker.
- Formalize your orientation process and include safety expectations. New employees should sign off that they read the safety policy, understand their expectations and know the hazards. If they are on the job and time elapses, implement a retention tool based on the orientation process with set time frames, such as 7, 15 and 30 days. Reinforcement is one of the best learning tools. Training should also include how to prepare for fires, accidents, violent situations and protocol for injuries. Minors should know they have a right to file a claim to cover their medical benefits and lost work time if they are injured.
- Create an on-the-job mentorship program. Partner a seasoned employee with a teen. Seasoned employees have seen it all, and if your culture is one that is safe, they will work with the new employee to avoid injuries. Young employees may overexert themselves in an attempt to impress. Overexertion can lead to serious strain injuries. They may also rush through a task or simply not remember all the protocols or hazards and can injure themselves or those around them.
- Color code your equipment and apparel. Color code vests or hard hats, so the team is alerted to the fact that there is a teen employee on-site. Encourage seasoned employees to work closely with him/her to ensure safe practices. Equipment can also be color-coded so teens know which ones they can and cannot use.
- Encourage leaders and minors to have open communication. Leaders should seek out newer employees and discuss the job responsibilities. The newer employees’ input should be encouraged and valued.
Construction firms spent the last five years reducing expenses and creating more efficient work environments, both in the office and in the field. While employing minors can cut costs significantly, it is not without its risk. Incorporating these ideas while creating a culture that promotes safety should be a priority, especially as new and minor employees are added to the mix.