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The nation has finally thawed out from a harsh winter, which means construction projects are back in full swing. Not only that, but the industry as a whole is continuing its current uptick. With an increase in projects, however, comes a new demand for workers.

Some companies are filling this void by hiring students for summer jobs. Students are always searching for work and are certainly an economically viable option. However, minors between the ages of 15 and 17 are seven times more likely to be fatally injured than their peers, according to the Department of Labor (DOL). On top of that, 40 percent of all work-related injuries come from employees who have been on the job for less than one year.

The correlation is clear: lack of experience in a higher-risk work environment often leads to more injuries--and greater costs to the employer than anticipated. If a company is planning to move forward and hire minors for their summer help, it’s important to be cautious and vigilant when assigning duties. Follow these DOL-recommended practices to help keep minors safe onsite.

Minimize exposures on the jobsite that could injure a young worker

Make sure equipment used by workers is safe and legal. Label the equipment teens cannot use, or color-code uniforms so others know they aren't allowed to perform certain tasks.

Appoint supervisors to oversee and serve as a mentor for young workers

Inform supervisors of the tasks that teens should not perform and ensure schedules/tasks are assigned throughout the day to eliminate possible spontaneous work or downtime. Ensure supervisors understand DOL laws, such as:
  • Minors under the age of 16 can only work certain hours and perform office or sales work. They cannot not be employed on the construction site.
  • Minors between the ages of 16 and 17 can work on a construction site, but cannot perform the following hazardous jobs:
    • Driving a motor vehicle or working as an outside helper (17-year-olds may 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;
      •  metal forming, punching and shearing machines, including portable machines;
      •  power-driven circular saws, band saws, chain saws, reciprocating saws; and
      •  guillotine shears, wood chippers and abrasive cutting discs, including portable machines.
    • Working in:
      •  wrecking, demolition and shipbreaking;
      •  roofing and on or about a roof;
      •  excavation; and
      •  mixing, handling or transporting explosive compounds.
    • Individuals 18 and older may perform any construction work.

Educate young workers to ensure they recognize hazards and are competent regarding safe working practices

Training should include how to prepare for fires, accidents, violent situations and protocol for injuries. Teens need to know they have a right to file a claim to cover their medical benefits and lost work time if injured. Have young workers demonstrate they can perform assigned tasks safely and correctly.When hiring for the summer, workers often become more stressed because of longer hours and new, often less experienced, team members. Construction is a high-risk endeavor, so trust among all workers is necessary. Hiring across generations also can result in alienation of the younger workforce. While there are many resources available that can help employers develop, promote and value a new summer workforce, it really all comes down to four simple actions. To create a more welcoming environment for all employees, encourage the following:

  • work to understand all employees and their unique needs so the workplace is comfortable and accessible for everyone;
  • promote open and honest communication within the company between employers and employees;
  • encourage acceptance and respect among all employees; and
  • establish a commitment from top management to promote and support diversity and equal opportunity as a core value of the organization.
Construction companies are being pushed to rethink their practices in order to reduce expenses and create efficiency. 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 during the summer months.

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