At this time of the year many employers become involved in work experience placements providing places for young people of school age. Some will be put off for fear of contravening health and safety rules and the consequences of an accident or injury. The government supports work experience and the Health and Safety Executive has recently revised its guidance to make it clear – and easy – for employers and work experience organisers to understand what they need to do.

The HSE says there is no need for lots of paperwork or an over-cautious approach; employers who are already effective in managing the risks in their business are unlikely to need to do anything in addition for work experience. Your existing Employers’ Liability Insurance policy will automatically cover work experience students provided it has been issued by a member of the Association of British Insurers.

Schools and colleges just need to ask a few questions to ascertain that appropriate measures are in place; they do not need to conduct their own risk assessments.

To meet the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act the HSE says that employers need to; •use their existing arrangements for assessments and management of risks to young people. •review their risk assessment(s)  if they do not currently employ a young person, have not done so in the last few years or are taking on a work experience student for the first time, or one with particular needs before they start; making sure that it considers the particular risks to young people.

  • avoid repeating an assessment of the risks if a new student is of a broadly similar level of maturity and understanding and has no particular or additional needs (the organiser or parent should tell the employer if they have) to other and previous students.
  • discuss the placement in advance with organisers and take account of what they and the parents or carers tell them about the student’s physical and psychological capacity and of any particular needs, for example due to any health conditions or learning difficulties •keep any additional work in proportion to the environment:
  • ◦for placements in low-risk environments, such as offices or shops, with everyday risks that will mostly be familiar to the student, existing arrangements for other employees should suffice
  • ◦for environments with risks less familiar to the student (eg in light assembly or packing facilities), employers  will need to make arrangements to manage the risks. This will need to include induction, supervision, site familiarisation, and any protective equipment needed
  • ◦for a placement in a higher-risk environment such as construction, agriculture and manufacturing the employer will need to:
  • consider what work the student will be doing or observing, the risks involved and how these are managed
  • be satisfied that the instruction, training and supervisory arrangements have been properly thought through and that they work in practice
  • in higher-risk environments it may be necessary to consider specific factors[6] that must be managed for young people, including exposure to radiation, noise and vibration, toxic substances, or extreme temperatures. Where these specific factors exist there should already be appropriate control measures in place. This will also apply to legally required age limits on the use of some equipment and machinery (eg forklift trucks and some woodworking machinery). Consider whether anything further needs to be done to control the risks to young people.
  • explain to parents or carers of children what the significant risks are and what has been done to control them. This can be done in whatever way is simplest and suitable, including verbally, and can very often be done via the school or college
  • when students are induced, explain the risks in the workplace and how they are controlled, checking that they understand what they have been told
  • check that students know how to raise  health and safety concerns.

Peninsula’s experience is that where a placement is not properly planned and supervision is lacking young people become bored and distracted. In these circumstances they look to find something to do, often something they should not be doing which leads to a very disruptive and costly accident or incident.

Don’t be put off, provided you follow the sensible steps listed above and there is a properly planned schedule of activity work experience placements are most unlikely to cause problems.  Employers should not be put off giving suitable opportunities to young people because of spurious health and safety concerns.

If you are a Peninsula client intending to offer a placement and have any doubts don’t forget that you can contact our health and safety advice team at any time (24/7) by calling 0844 892 2772.

By Tony Trenear