Although the construction industry is in the midst of a boom, project managers can’t seem to find enough qualified workers. As a result, more teenagers and young adults are joining the construction workforce. While construction jobs are an excellent way to teach youth practical skills and to help them gain work experience, they come with some caveats.
Construction can be a hazardous industry, and with many teens lacking the necessary experience, extensive training may be necessary. For employers considering hiring teens for their construction job, there are guidelines and limitations to be aware of.
Laws Regarding Teen Workers
While the legal age to work varies from state to state, with some states allowing teens to work as young as 14, there are some ground rules that apply across the board:
- Teens under 16 years of age can only perform office and sales tasks in the construction industry.
- Teens aged 16 and older can work on the construction site but are limited to the tasks they can perform.
- The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dictates that youth under 18 years of age cannot operate the following items:
- Motor vehicles
- Power-driven woodworking machines (drills, nail guns, etc.)
- Forklifts, cranes, hoists, elevators
- Power-driven metal forming machines
- Power-driven circular saws, band saws, guillotine shears
- Wrecking, demolition, shipbreaking equipment
- Roofing equipment
- Excavation equipment
That being said, the FLSA can issue exemptions to certain teen apprentices that allows them to participate in more heavy-duty work. However, those workers still need to be supervised and in accordance with other teen labor laws related to the maximum hours that can be worked, shift lengths, and curfews.
Preparing Teen Workers
While young workers cannot operate heavy machinery or excavate, they can always help with other productive tasks, such as helping carry supplies, hammering, and painting. Even if not engaging in risky work, they should always also be provided with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) such as steel-toed boots, hard hats, and safety goggles.
The most important, however, is to ensure they are provided with the proper supervision and training. Putting teen workers through a general OSHA training session provides vast benefits, as it allows them to acquaint themselves with the basic hazards and protections.
Still, it is also critical that you ensure teen workers always fully understand the task at hand before you send them off to it – especially in the event a language barrier is present. If they are at risk of any of the “Fatal Four” in their work, they should be reassigned to another task.
Employers and project managers should always ask teen workers to demonstrate proficiency at a manual task before asking them to engage in it. Furthermore, other workers and employees should be instructed to offer guidance whenever possible. And, lastly, protective equipment should be tested for a proper fit. If hard hats, goggles, or fall harnesses are too loose or not correctly secured, young workers may unknowingly be at risk.
A Ripple Effect
The fact of the matter is, even with the construction industry’s labor shortage and the influx of teen workers, many young people are still reluctant to enter the industry. This is largely due to lack of training, and naturally, parental concerns regarding the risks.
Construction jobs can offer teens the opportunity to learn many useful and practical skills, acting as a vocational training. If employers commit themselves to teach young hires the basics, the pool of viable construction candidates will continue to widen. Not only could this lead to benefits for the economy, but increased livelihood for teens from low-income families.
Teens interested in working in the construction industry should find out more about rules and regulations surrounding this through the Department of Labor’s YouthRules! website.
Ellie Batchiyska is a writer for Advance Online, the first web-based training provider to be accepted by the OSHA Outreach Program for DOL OSHA completion cards.