Often times, when a young worker gets a job, the last thing they do is look into is their rights, if ever. They want to know when they are getting paid and how much it will be. Concerns are very limited with young workers, especially when it comes to their safety and rights. Their motivation and reasons for working may be different than the typical adult, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is trying to make sure the young workers of America know, they have rights too.
A recent campaign launched by OSHA is designed to inform the young worker of their rights and provide them with the resources necessary to have a “safe and rewarding” work experience. In return, OSHA hopes that young workers will receive the education they need to help prevent job related injuries and illnesses.
Young Workers at Risk
- In 2011, 331 young workers were killed on the job.
- 106,170 young workers were injured in 2011.
- Every nine minutes a U.S. teenager is hurt on the job.
The fact is that young workers are more at risk of suffering an injury or an illness on the job than other workers.
Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA
OSHA hopes to reduce these numbers by letting young workers know they have rights while at work, starting with the right to a safe workplace.
At work, you have the right to:
- Work in a safe place.
- Receive safety and health training in a language you understand.
- Ask questions if you don’t understand instructions or something seems unsafe.
- Use and be trained on required safety gear, such as hard hats, goggles and ear plugs.
- Exercise your workplace safety rights without retaliation or discrimination.
- File a confidential complaint with OSHA if you believe there is a serious hazard or that your employer is not following OSHA standards.
Your employer must:
- Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards and follow all OSHA safety and health standards.
- Provide training about workplace hazards and required safety gear.
- Tell you where to get answers to your safety or health questions.
- Tell you what to do if you get hurt on the job.
To better protect yourself, you should:
- Report unsafe conditions to a shift/team leader or supervisor.
- Wear any safety gear required to do your job.
- Follow the safety rules.
- Ask questions.
- Ask for help if needed.
In addition to the rights noted above, OSHA would like to also remind young workers of child labor laws. In certain cases, if you are under the age of 18, there may be limits to the hours you can work in a week, the jobs you do and the equipment you can use. If you are under the age of 16, there are many more restrictions on your employment, especially in agriculture.
In an open letter to young workers, Dr. David Michaels mentions two young workers (ages 14 and 19) that were killed at a grain storage facility in July, of 2010. Both workers were told to enter a grain bin to wade in the corn and break up clumps, however the suction created from the flowing grain pulled them in like quicksand and suffocated them to death. The letter goes on to remind readers that it was illegal for the company to employ a 14-year-old to work in a grain silo and that workers should never be inside a grain bin when it’s being emptied because a sinkhole can form and take a worker down in a matter of seconds. The facility ignored an OSHA standard, resulting in two lives being unfortunately cut short.
Each job may come with a different set of risks and hazards to be aware of, but your rights as an employee are still the same. It is important for young workers everywhere to recognize and understand that they do have rights when working. More importantly, that they should not feel intimidated to act on these rights while on the job.