A Letter to Young Workers: Your Right to a Safe and Healthful Workplace

This blog entry is a cross posting from the Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Labor, re-published with permission from the U.S. DOL Office of Disability Employment Policy, which funds the National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth). To read more entries on the U.S. DOL Official Blog, go to their blog website: http://social.dol.gov/blog/.

As we get into the summer months, many youth may be entering employment for the first time through a summer job opportunity. It is critical for all youth who plan to or are already working to understand how to stay safe and healthy at work. This blog provides valuable information for youth, families, and youth service professionals on youth worker safety including an overview of youth worker rights and ways to protect yourself on the job.

This blog was written by Dr. David Michaels, and originally posted on May 17, 2011 at http://social.dol.gov/blog/a-letter-to-young-workers-your-right-to-a-safe-and-healthful-workplace/:

A teen worker repairs a bicycle wheel.

A teen worker repairs a bicycle wheel. For young workers, safe work is rewarding work.

To celebrate the United Nations’ International Year of Youth, we began a series about why young workers are so important to our country’s economy, and what the Department of Labor is doing to make sure you have the opportunity to contribute your energy and creativity to the communities where you live and work. One way that DOL does this is by making sure you don’t get hurt on the job.

That is the role of DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration —  protect workers from workplace hazards that can cause a serious injury or illness. Almost always, workplace deaths and injuries are clearly preventable. Workplace hazards are well-known and painstakingly researched, and employers have a responsibility to follow established safety and health laws and common sense safety practices that prevent tragedies.

Last July, two young workers (ages 14 and 19) were killed at a grain storage facility in the Midwest.  Both teens were sent into a grain bin to wade in the corn and break up clumps, when the suction created by the flowing grain pulled them in like quicksand and suffocated them. It was illegal for this company to employ a 14-year-old to work in a grain silo.  In addition, workers should never be inside a grain bin when it is being emptied out because a sinkhole can form and pull down the worker in seconds. OSHA standards prohibit this dangerous practice and this company ignored that rule.

The fact is that young workers are more at risk of suffering an injury or an illness on the job than other workers. This may be the first time you’re operating equipment that the old-timer next to you has been operating every day for decades. And we all know that sometimes new jobs can be intimidating. You want to show your new boss that you’re a great worker, you may not ask questions, or you may rush a little.  And being new on the job, you may not feel comfortable telling somebody when you feel unsafe or a situation is dangerous.

That’s why OSHA is reaching out to you and young workers across the country to give you the information you need to stay safe and healthy at work.

First, you have the right to a safe workplace. For instance, your employer must give you proper safety and health training as part of the training you receive when you start a new job. Ask questions if something seems unsafe or hazardous. Your employer can also establish a mentoring program to “buddy” you with a more experienced worker to learn about ways to ensure your safety and health. You have the right to speak up and ask your boss questions, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, find a friend, teacher or parent to talk to about your concerns. If you’re in a union, talk to your union representative. If you still feel unsafe, call OSHA.  You should also learn about the federal and state child labor laws and regulations that apply to you, which include certain limitations on the work that teens under age 18 can do or the equipment they can use.

Take the information here and share it with your friends or co-workers. Post it to your Facebook wall or Twitter account. Ask questions in the comments section. Talk about safety conditions and your rights when you get together with your fellow workers after clocking out. Doing so will give you a strong foundation for a lifetime of working safely.

OSHA is here to help you. You can call us at our toll-free number – 1-800-321-OSHA (6742); TTY 1-877-889-5627 – to ask a question or ask OSHA to inspect your workplace if you think there is a serious hazard.  You can also submit a question online. If you’d like to file a complaint go to our “How to File a Complaint” page for instructions.


Your Rights On The Job

  • Your employer must provide a workplace free of serious hazards.  Your employer must also:
  • Tell you the hazards and dangers of your job
  • Inform you about the OSHA standards that apply to your workplace (in a language you understand)
  • Provide job safety training regarding workplace hazards and the required safety gear [personal protective equipment (PPE)]
  • Tell you who to talk to if you have a health or safety question, and
  • Inform you what to do and who to talk to if you get hurt on the job.

To help assure a safe workplace, OSHA provides you with rights to:

  • Receive information and training about hazards, methods to avoid harm, and OSHA standards that apply in a language you can understand;
  • Exercise your workplace safety rights without retaliation and discrimination; and
  • Ask OSHA to inspect your workplace
  • Ways to Stay Safe on the Job

To help protect yourself, you can:

  • Report unsafe conditions to your supervisor, parent, teacher or other adult that can help.
  • Wear any personal protective equipment provided to do your job.
  • Follow the safety rules.
  • Never by-pass the safety features of equipment or take short-cuts.
  • Speak Up. Ask questions. Ask for help.

Dr. David Michaels is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Photo courtesy of the Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Labor.

About NCWD Youth

NCWD/Youth works to ensure that transition age youth are provided full access to high quality services in integrated settings to gain education, employment, and independent living.
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