Giving young people the opportunity to undertake work experience placements is an excellent way for them to gain an insight to the working world, learn new skills and help them decide what they might like to do with the future. It rests on our local businesses to welcome students and provide this opportunity whilst understanding it might be their first experience of being in a working environment.
With respect to Health & Safety (contrary to what some might think), the process of taking on a work experience student should be simple and straightforward with very little additional administration needed beyond what they already provide for their existing employees. The key responsibilities for employers briefly comprise:
- Ensuring, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of the placement student.
- Appraise the risks that the placement student is exposed to and share any significant findings of the assessment with the student.
- Provide general induction and specific training in respect of the tasks to be undertaken during the placement.
- Provide general health and safety information, instruction, training and supervision.
- Meet all statutory health and safety requirements such as conducting risk assessments.
- Report and accidents or injuries to the placement organiser.
- Ensure disability related adjustments are provided.
Back in 2013, the Government announced its commitment to reducing any burden on employers to encourage them to take on more workplace students. Several key outcomes have been welcomed by businesses:
- The insurance industry has committed to treat work experience students as employees for the purposes of insurance against bodily injury and confirmed that simply giving work experience opportunities to students will not in itself impact on insurance premiums.
- The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has issued guidance providing clarity on employer’s obligations with regard to risk assessments, making it clear that if workplace risk has already been assessed with young people in mind, a business does not need to repeat this for each new young person and/or student.
- The Department for Education and Ofsted have published a guide to clarify the health and safety responsibilities for educational establishments organising work experience placements.
If the business does not already employ young employees and hasn’t done so in the last few years, it may be necessary to review the risk assessment, but this would then suffice for all young workers and work experience students.
As in any workplace situation, a proportionate approach to risk should be taken when thinking about Health & Safety. The HSE highlights some common myths about employing young people and those on work experience:
Myth: Under 18s cannot be employed on construction sites for work or work experience.
Truth: As long as the work is properly Risk assessed and the relevant controls are in place, there is no reason why a younger person should not be employed on a building site.
Myth: Schools must carry out workplace checks before sending pupils on work experience placements and visit the workplace in advance of every placement.
Truth: There are no legal requirements for those arranging the work experience to carry out workplace assessments or visit the premises in advance, although they should satisfy themselves that the employer taking on the pupil has the necessary Health & Safety risk management procedures in place. In most situations, a simple telephone call should be enough.
Myth: Employers need to carry out a separate risk assessment when taking on work experience students.
Truth: As long as an existing risk assessment considers the relevant factors for young employees, there is no need to carry out a specific assessment for work experience students.
As an employer, if for whatever reason you decide that work experience students are not for you, it’s probably best not cite Health & Safety as the prohibiting factor unless you have a very genuine reason to as it is likely to be the case in only a very few circumstances.