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

by Dr. David Michaels on May 17, 2011 · 17 comments

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).

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May 19, 2011 at 10:04 am
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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 OSHA Training August 24, 2011 at 10:16 am

I think the key to preventing these injuries afflicting yong workers. Often times they are hired as part-time workers or assitants, and we sometimes overlook training for them. They are eager to work hard and please their employers, and often take shortcuts (which are often unsafe) to impress their boss. Please, train then just like you would a full-time worker.

2 Safety Manual September 21, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Teen workers is not a consideration during the establishment of safety manual. They typically address “hazard specific” issues. Maybe its’ time to make “teen workers” a required component of OSHA’s recommended safety programs for small business. Thoughts?

3 Doug Millington September 25, 2011 at 11:53 pm

The same young worker that doesn’t have the work specific experience as the “old-timer” will probably not be aware of their “Rights on the Job” or “Ways to Stay Safe on the Job” and will be unlikely to speak up much less recognize unsafe practices. Let’s just hope that employers take workplace safety seriously and provide the proper training.

4 Pekanbaru November 18, 2011 at 9:56 am

What youre saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I also love the images you put in here. They fit so well with what youre trying to say. Im sure youll reach so many people with what youve got to say.

5 Jual Rumah Pekanbaru November 19, 2011 at 5:44 am

Aw, this was a really great post. In theory I’d like to write like this also – taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

6 phlebotomytraining4u January 5, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Would you mind if I reference a few sentences from your post? I’m researching for project for highschool. Thanks!

7 admin January 6, 2012 at 10:19 am

Thank you for your interest in the Department of Labor’s blog. Feel free to reference the material from this post and good luck on your project.

8 OSHA Training February 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm

OSHA training requirements (available for review at http://www.oshatraining.com) are often an afterthought for jobs traditionally held by teen workers (fast food, retail . . .). But statistics from the BLS show these jobs are among the leaders in injuries (burns, back injuries, work violence . . .).

9 Jamika Jackson May 15, 2012 at 12:55 pm

this is a very helpful website to go on!!!!!!!!!1

10 Kaitlin Gibson August 9, 2012 at 11:04 am

This is a great letter. it Shows that you are important.

11 www.hcg1234.com August 23, 2012 at 5:20 am

Young people entering a work situation may comprise school children on work experience placements, participants in government training schemes or direct employees under 18 years of age. Due to the relative inexperience of such persons, particular care should be exercised through appropriate induction training, close supervision. Thanks.

12 kody February 26, 2013 at 10:41 am

LOVE IT!!! please make more!

13 kody schluechtermann February 26, 2013 at 10:44 am

this is one of the best osha sites!

14 wczasy nad morzem http://www.taniewczasynadmorzem.pl December 15, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Thank you for your interest in the Department of Labor’s blog. Feel free to reference the material from this post and good luck on your project.

15 cincin kawin June 18, 2014 at 2:34 am

amazing you know…The same young worker that doesn’t have the work specific experience as the “old-timer” will probably not be aware of their “Rights on the Job” or “Ways to Stay Safe on the Job” and will be unlikely to speak up much less recognize unsafe practices. Let’s just hope that employers take workplace safety seriously and provide the proper training, so lets do more . talk less do more

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