New guidance issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that young people should be treated in the same way as ordinary employees, and that businesses that have already performed a risk assessment with young people in mind do not need to repeat this assessment every time they take on a new student.
"Work experience is an important step in preparing young people for the world of work," said HSE chair Judith Hackitt. "Our revised guidance makes it clear – and easy – for employers and work experience organisers to understand what they need to do."
"There is no need for lots of paperwork or an over-cautious approach. Employers who are already managing the risks in their business effectively for employees are unlikely to need to do anything in addition for work experience. Schools and colleges just need to ask a few questions to ascertain that appropriate measures are in place," she said.
Alongside the new guidance, the Association of British Insurers has confirmed that work experience students will be treated as existing employees for the purposes of compulsory employers' liability insurance policies. Employers will also no longer have to carry out disclosure checks on staff supervising young people aged 16 or 17 on work experience.
The announcement is the latest in the Government's drive to cut down on unnecessary and over-burdensome health and safety regulation. Recent announcements have seen low-risk businesses taken out of the health and safety inspection regime, and proposals to remove around 800,000 self-employed people whose work poses no harm to others from health and safety regulation. From October this year, the law will also be changed so that businesses will no longer be liable for workplace accidents where they were not negligent.
The new guidance from the HSE in relation to work experience placements makes it clear that employers are "best placed to assess whether or not they need to do anything additional for a new young person joining them". Under health and safety law, work experience students become employees and should be treated no differently to other young people working for the employer, it says.
Employers should use their "existing arrangements" for the assessment and management of risks to young people, according to the guidance. For a business with five employees or fewer, written risk assessments are not required. Businesses that do not currently employ young people or that are taking on a work experience student for the first time should review their risk assessment before they start, but they do not need to repeat the assessment if a subsequent student is "of a broadly similar level of maturity and understanding" and has no additional needs.
Placements in "low-risk environments, such as offices or shops" should not require any additional preparatory work by the employer. Employers should "make arrangements to manage the risks" where the environment is less familiar to the student, according to the guidance. These arrangements could include induction, supervision, site familiarisation, protective equipment and control measures for specific high-risk factors, depending on the nature of the workplace, according to the guidance.
Schools, colleges and those organising placements are advised in the guidance to "simply ask sensible questions, in proportion to the level of risk", to satisfy themselves that the appropriate arrangements are in place. They should not be "second-guessing employers' risk assessments or requiring additional paperwork", according to the guidance.