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Employing children

Properly structured part-time work can help a child to develop self-confidence, communication and organisational skills and familiarity with handling money and dealing with other people. 

However, a child’s capabilities are generally less developed than those of experienced and mature employees and they can therefore be more vulnerable when exposed to certain risks, due to their physical and psychological immaturity and their lack of awareness of potential hazards or the risks they present.

A child is considered employed:

  • where they help in a business that aims to make profit, whether or not they receive pay or a reward;
  • where they help in their parents shop without receiving payment; and
  • where the aim is to make a surplus (e.g. as unpaid work in a charity shop).

Employers must comply with duties set out in a wide range of legislation, in addition to bylaws made by local authorities, which may follow the model bylaws published by the Department of Health or may further prohibit the kinds of work a child may do, or otherwise depart from the model bylaws to suit local circumstances. There are some differences in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, although the law is similar to that in England. There are limitations on the work they can do and the hours they may work. Close attention to their health and safety and welfare is essential.

The guidance provided within this page deals primarily with the health and safety at work of a child under the minimum school leaving age (MSLA), including students involved in work experience. Our risk topic page on employing young people discusses the issues associated with under-18s that are above the MSLA.

  • Identify the prohibitions, restrictions and specific duties defined in health and safety law and the local bylaws.
  • Check the actions required to meet duties with regard to safeguarding children.

    - The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) helps employers prevent unsuitable people from working with vulnerable groups, including children. (Except for sole traders,) DBS checks are necessary for individuals, paid or unpaid, whose job involves “regulated activity” (such as teaching, training, instructing or supervising) with children done “frequently” (once a week or more often).

    - It’s a criminal offence under the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 to knowingly employ someone (including volunteers) who is barred from working with children or vulnerable adults, or to fail to report to the DBS someone who may be harmful to children.
  • Complete a young person’s risk assessment, taking into consideration the activities, legislation, prohibitions and restrictions.
  • Liaise fully with the child’s parent or guardian and inform them of the possible risks and the measures put in place to control them.
  • Supply the required information to the local authority within a week of the start of the child’s employment where the bylaws require an employment permit. Unless approved and registered, a child may not be included under Employers’ Liability insurance.
  • Provide information, instruction and training before the work starts.
  • Supervise the child’s use of risk control measures. For example, check that they’re correctly wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) as required.
  • Monitor compliance with the daily and weekly working hour limits.
  • Review and update the risk assessment if circumstances change and at regular intervals.
  • Arrange amendment of the employment permit if circumstances change and ensure it’s renewed prior to expiry.
Find information on regulations that you and your business may need to comply with.
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Frequently asked questions
Find answers to some common queries about managing risks to people, property and business continuity.
When children are in your employment, you’ll need to make a specific assessment regarding some risk topics, such as:
Visit our risk topic page on employing young people for guidance about what’s required when employing individuals that are under the age of 18 but beyond the MSLA.