Young workers and health and safety Factors known to contribute to the vulnerability of young workers are their inexperience, lack of knowledge, training, perception of danger and physical and mental immaturity. A “young person” is someone who has not reached 18 years old. A “child” is someone who has not reached compulsory school leaving age. There are, unfortunately, many recent examples of prosecutions involving young workers across a wide range of types of employment. These include the following: In March 2013 Motorhouse 2000 Ltd, a vehicle repair company, was fined following an incident in which a school pupil was injured when toxic paint stripper splashed into his face. In January 2012 Bret Thomas, then aged 16, was on an extended work experience placement at the company’s site in Cannock. He was told to help an employee who was refilling a wheel stripping tank. The employee poured paint stripper from plastic containers into the tank and then passed the containers to Thomas who removed their labels and cut them in half. As he was cutting the last container with a Stanley knife, the container flicked up and the remains of the paint stripper splashed into his eyes and face. He was not wearing face or eye protection. He suffered burns to his face and eyes. His vision was seriously affected for a month and his face is scarred. Motorhouse 2000 Ltd was fined £4000 plus £6300 costs under regulation 19(2)(b) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. This regulation states, in summary, that every employer shall ensure that young persons employed by him are protected at work from any risks to their health or safety which are a consequence of their lack of experience, or absence of awareness of existing or potential risks or the fact that young persons have not yet fully matured and involving harmful exposure to agents which are toxic or carcinogenic. cause heritable genetic damage or harm to the unborn child or which in any other way chronically affect human health. A spokesperson for the HSE is reported to have commented that work experience is very important for young people in order for them to gain an understanding of the world of work. Employers must fulfil their responsibilities to assess risks and protect young people by putting the appropriate control measures in place.
Another example is the prosecution of JSF Stainless Ltd, a steel products manufacturer, and its director following an incident in which a 17 year old worker suffered severed fingers on a moving saw blade. In June 2011 the young worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, was asked by Lancaster to clean a steel cutting saw while the blade was still moving. He had never before used the machine and did not know how to stop the blade. The saw caught his left hand and severed three fingers and his thumb. The young worker should never have been instructed to clean dangerous equipment which was still in operation. He should have been provided with appropriate training on how to make the machine safe to clean and should have been suitably supervised. This was his first job and he was asked to clean the saw while the blade was moving by an experienced individual who knew better and who should have ensured that the machine was safe. Appropriate supervision should have been provided throughout, but was not. JSF Stainless Steel Ltd was fined £6000 plus £13,000 costs under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc., Act 1974 for failing to ensure the health and safety of young persons. Richard Lancaster was fined £2000 for the same offence, plus £2600 costs.
In April 2013 THS Industrial Textiles Ltd was fined following an incident in which a young worker suffered serious crushing injuries.
An 18 year old warehouse worker employed by THS was working at the company’s site in Elland, West Yorkshire. He was inside a container, unloading pallets, when a double-stacked pallet fell over and crushed him, causing a fractured leg. The company had operated a dangerous system of work for unloading the pallets for a significant amount of time and had failed to provide workers with the right equipment to do the job safely. The pallets were being dragged by workers, using straps, across the container floor to get them closer to its doors so that they could be lifted off by a forklift truck. The pallets were also dragged onto the end of the forks. The forklift truck was carrying pallets which exceeded its capacity. The company had been warned before the incident that the forklift was being used to lift loads which were too heavy. The warning was ignored. The company was fined £6000 plus £4900 costs under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc., Act 1974, for failing to ensure the health and safety of employees.
Hammonds Furniture Ltd was fined £7000 plus £2700 costs in March 2013 in relation to an incident in which a young worker suffered multiple fractures when his arm was crushed in a gluing machine. The young worker wishes to remain anonymous. He was working at the company’s site in Nuneaton in February 2012, on a line where glue is sprayed onto furniture panels. As he was attempting to change a roll of paper which was used to catch overspray glue his arm was pulled into the workings of the machine. He was freed by firefighters 40 minutes later. His arm was fractured in three places. He has been unable to return to work. The company had increased the size of the roll of paper without assessing the risks associated with the change, or providing workers with training in a new method for changing the larger rolls. The result of this was that workers had developed their own unsafe method of changing the rolls. The young worker who was seriously injured had copied the method used by his older colleagues. The company was fined for a breach of section 2 of the 1974 Act for failing to ensure the health and safety of employees. A spokesperson for the HSE is reported to have commented after the case that the company had failed to properly assess any new risks to the workforce as a result of the changes which were implemented, or to develop a safe system of work and train workers in the new system. The unsafe method had been used for some months. As a result, a young worker suffered a great deal of physical and mental pain.