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What You Should Know About Employing Minors in Construction

On June 24, 2020, two teenage brothers (16 and 18) were working on a construction site in Nashville, Tennessee, near Nissan Stadium. The boys had taken the construction gig as a summer job and were working on the construction site’s scaffolding 120 feet in the air when the youngest of the brothers plummeted to the ground and died. When Metro police arrived on the scene, they found no signs of foul play, but they did learn that the teenagers were not wearing safety harnesses while working on the scaffolding. His family, who had been preparing the teenage boy to go off to college in Kentucky, was devastated and confused by this incident.

When WSMV-TV investigated the case shortly after, they obtained documents that showed the teenager received training and certification to work with equipment needed to scale scaffolding at the construction site — despite the fact that it’s illegal for employees under 18 to use such equipment. The broader question this tragedy raises about the construction industry as a whole is, “What are we doing to protect the minors we employ at construction sites?” In this article, we’ll review the answer to this question in greater detail as well as the steps you can take to protect your jobsite. If your jobsite has been cited by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) for failing to provide a safe and healthful work environment to your employees, get in touch with one of our Tennessee OSHA attorneys as soon as possible.

Related: Teen Workers on the Construction Site

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The Fair Labor Standards Act establishes minimum wage, record keeping, overtime pay, and a host of other child labor standards affecting certain full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments. The rules vary depending on the age of the minor and the particular job involved. As a general rule, the FLSA sets 14 years old as the minimum age for employment and limits the amount and type of work performed by minors under the age of 16. 

For example, minors under the age of 16 may only perform office or sales work in the construction industry. Minors aged 16 and 17, however, may work on construction sites with no federal laws that restrict the number of hours per day or week that they can work. However, there are several tasks or jobs that are too hazardous for these minors to perform.

Within FLSA, seventeen tasks are declared hazardous and prohibited for any individual under the age of 18. Below, we’ve outlined a few of the prohibited tasks that may be particularly relevant for an employer within the construction industry:

  • Operating power-driven circular saws, band saws, or guillotine shears
  • Operating power-driven metal forming, punching, or shearing machines
  • Operating forklifts, cranes, hoists, or elevators
  • Operating a motor vehicle
  • Operating power-driven woodworking machines, including drills and nail guns
  • Roofing operations
  • Excavation operations
  • Wrecking, demolition, or ship breaking operations

Related: 10 Employment Law Pitfalls in Construction

Tennessee Child Labor Laws

Generally speaking, minors under the age of 18 are subject to Tennessee’s child labor protections as established by The Child Labor Act. For example, minors between the ages of 16 and 17 must not be employed during the hours in which they’re required to attend classes. Minors between the ages of 14 and 15, similarly, must not be employed more than 3 hours on a school day or 8 hours on a non-school day. In both age groups, the minor must have a 30-minute unpaid break or meal period if they have been scheduled to work 6 hours consecutively.

However, there are exceptions. The Child Labor Act prohibits the employment of minors in certain occupations and working conditions that may be considered hazardous. Below, we’ve listed some of these occupations and conditions that may prove relevant for the construction industry:

  • Any occupation which the commissioner shall by regulation declare to be hazardous or injurious to the life, health, safety and welfare of minors
  • Operation of circular saws, band saws, or guillotine shears
  • Manufacture of brick, tile, and kindred products
  • Motor vehicle driving occupations
  • In or about plants or establishments manufacturing or storing explosives or articles containing explosive components
  • Operation of power-driven metal forming, punching, or shearing machines
  • Roofing operations
  • Excavation operations
  • Wrecking, demolition, or ship-breaking operations

Important Steps to Take

Beefing up your workforce for a busy season is a welcomed relief for many employers, and summer jobs like those in construction expose youth to many tangible skills and valuable work experience. However, you must be careful to prevent a tragedy like the one previously discussed in the introduction from occurring. Below, we’ve outlined just a few of the most important steps you can take to keep you, your jobsite, and your employees safe:

  • Know the federal and state laws and periodically verify your compliance
  • Train young workers on what tasks they can and cannot legally do on the jobsite
  • Provide young workers with appropriate and properly sized personal protective equipment, when necessary
  • Encourage supervisors to set a good example for safety attitudes and safe work habits
  • Ensure young workers receive clear and concise instructions for each and every task
  • Have one of our OSHA attorneys on standby to ensure your workplace is in compliance and appropriately protecting its employees

If a tragedy has occurred on your jobsite as a result of failure to apply the appropriate safety precautions laid out in this article, get in touch with an OSHA attorney from Cotney Construction Law as soon as possible.

If you would like to speak with one of our Tennessee OSHA lawyers, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.