Young workers are at risk employees

This year, a retailer was fined $60,000 following an incident involving a young worker. The 20-year-old was working for QSR Pty Ltd (QSR), a KFC franchise in Coffs Harbour when he slipped in the kitchen while cleaning and suffered serious burns to his leg.

At the time of the incident, the worker was cleaning the canopies of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system; these were positioned above open cook pots that were heating up oil. The worker used a ladder to access the area. When he was coming down from his position, his leg slipped in the cook pot containing hot oil. As a result, the worker suffered third degree burns to his left leg and was treated in hospital. 

This case is a timely reminder for retailers of their work health and safety obligations towards young workers. The retail sector has a very high concentration of young workers. Approximately 40% of the retail workforce are in the young worker category. Considering this, combined with the fact that young workers are at a higher risk of workplace injury, it makes good business sense for retailers to prioritise young worker health and safety.


Young workers are identified as an At-Risk worker group; this is due to young workers often having no, or limited, work experience. In their At-Risk Workers’ Strategy 2018-2022 – Young Worker Plan 2018-19, SafeWork NSW identifies the six highest risk factors for young workers.

  • Highest risk factor: Inadequate supervision and training
  • 2nd factor: Limited understanding of work health and safety rights and worker obligations
  • 3rd factor: Inexperience in the job and/or at the individual workplace
  • 4th factor: High incidence of mental health issues
  • 5th factor: Being bullied or facing peer pressure
  • 6th factor: Reluctance to speak up and ‘make waves’ due to multiple factors

Retailers should consider these high-risk factors when developing, implementing and reviewing young worker risk management strategies in the workplace.

SafeWork NSW, through their young worker e-toolkit, encourages employers to introduce the key messaging to give to young workers to reinforce positive safety behaviour.  When training young workers, retailers could ask young workers to think about these actions before carrying out a task.

Wait, take five

  1. Stop…
  2. Is it safe?
  3. Could it hurt someone?
  4. Speak up
  5. Ask

It is important to note however; it is not only up to the young worker to take action for their health and safety. As an employer of young workers, retailers must ensure they carry out their duty of care.  This includes ensuring:

  • the work environment, systems of work, machinery and equipment are safe and properly maintained
  • information, training, instruction and supervision are provided
  • adequate workplace facilities are available for workers and any accommodation you provide to your workers is safe
  • workers’ health and workplace conditions are monitored
  • chemicals are handled and stored safely.

To find out more about how to protect your young workers health and safety, there are many resources available to you through health and safety Regulator websites. Here are few:

Young Worker Resources:

Young worker safety toolkitWorkplace Health and Safety Queensland


Young workers, WorkSafe Victoria


Safety tips for new and young workers and their employers, WorkSafe WA


New and young workers, SafeWork SA


Young Workers eToolkit, SafeWork NSW


Young worker program, NT WorkSafe


Retailers are encouraged to constantly revise their work health and safety obligations, especially to young workers. When looking at how many employees in the retail industry are classified as young, it makes sense for businesses in this industry to make their well-being in the workplace a priority.



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