Employers of Teen Workers

Safety in Schools

Almost exactly 90% of teens in the United States attend public school. Roughly 20% of teens are employed while they are attending public high schools and many more become employed soon after their graduation. It is important to note that the best time to begin learning about workplace practices and workplace safety is as soon as you are exposed to a workplace. In the minds of many, this would be at a teen's first place of employment. However, I would suggest that we consider the public schools as a workplace. It is a simple suggestion, likely one that many will agree with, because they are truly workplaces. Approximately 6.7 million people in the U.S. are employed in the public education sector. Who governs all workplaces in the U.S. including federal and private employers, but excluding public schools, state and local governments? I think you may be surprised to hear the answer. OSHA! The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 provides a legislative mandate for OSHA to govern all workplace safety in the U.S., but it completely excludes public schools! K-12, career centers, community colleges, universities - you name it; each of these schools is subject to whatever state developed regulatory or enforcement program exists. Guess what? That means safety practices in public schools can be very appalling. It's true. I know from experience, having worked at an OSHA VPP star site involved in the practice of manufacturing fertilizer from natural gas and ammonia, and now working for a public institution whose safety practices I became heavily involved in as a Human Resources professional.

Why is safety important? We don't have to venture far into the internet to learn about the importance of safety. 15 deaths per day average due to workplace incidents as of 2019 statistics. However, that's down from the roughly 38 per day that was occurring at the inception of OSHA in 1970. How do workplace safety cultures become exceptional? Through governing; repeated interaction with a governing body who reminds you about your pain points and your opportunities for improvement. Why would it be important for public schools to have a good safety culture? First, consider that we develop habits from a young age. In that case, we should aspire to begin teaching about safety from a young age, especially as students come to a physical location that operates as a workplace. Second, workplaces of today are not dissimilar from schools. Schools have manufacturing classes such as robotics and woodworking, they have athletics facilities, they have maintenance facilities, food services, scientific laboratories, and the list goes on. Last, we are discussing preparing the youth of America for employment. After all, isn't that the point of school? How prepared is a student for student loan debt when they haven't taken a single class on economics or finances? I'll speak from a personal perspective here - I was not prepared. If we treat safety the same way in public schools that many public schools systems have treated personal finances, we will continue to send generations of students to employers with a lack of adequate safety instruction. These untrained future employees will make mistakes and those mistakes could be fatal. In my opinion, that's a good reason to begin the conversation of safety in America's public schools.

I propose that we amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 to include a legislative mandate requiring public education institutions to comply with all OSHA guidance and expressly providing OSHA with jurisdiction over public education institutions.

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Idea No. 127