OHS Canada Magazine

B.C. changing age limits for specific jobs to protect young workers


October 13, 2022
By OHS Canada

Young Workers british columbia Construction employment standards Forestry Minimum Age WorkSafeBC Young Workers

(Getty Images/Michaelmjc)

British Columbia is putting in new restrictions on the types of work that youths, aged 16 to 18, can do in an effort to improve safety.

“For a young person, working can be a rewarding and valuable experience, important for personal growth and setting them on a path to their own success,” said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour. “But it must be work that is both physically and mentally appropriate for their age, with the necessary training and supervision.”

Examining WorkSafeBC data

To develop the new rules, ministry staff examined WorkSafeBC injury data and other jurisdictions’ labour laws relating to hazardous employment.

Based on that information, a number of jobs within several industries were identified as hazardous for young workers, including areas within construction, forestry, food processing, oil/gas and power, asbestos removal and others.

Consultations on the draft rules were held with industry, labour, safety and skills training groups, and an online survey was available to the public. Overall, survey respondents agreed that 18 years old was an appropriate minimum age requirement for most types of hazardous work, with some exceptions, the government said.

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For construction work, and fish and some animal processing work, a minimum age of 16 was deemed appropriate.

There was also agreement that workplace safety and training must be prioritized at any worksite, and there needs to be rigorous enforcement of existing safety standards.

One worker’s experience

Jessica Kruger, owner of Vancouver’s The Stubborn Baker, understands the importance of protecting youth at work. At 15, she was beginning her second week as a house painter when she fainted and fell two storeys off a ladder, suffering life-altering injuries.

“Being so young, I felt like I had a lot to prove and never questioned the safety of any of the jobs I was required to do — there were no restrictions in place demanding I wear a harness and I didn’t know any better,” Kruger said. “If these regulations had been in place in 2008, I probably wouldn’t require a wheelchair today, so I applaud the B.C. government for working to protect young people now and moving forward.”

To ensure youth can still access important apprenticeship and training opportunities, the age restrictions will not apply to industry training programs overseen by SkilledTradesBC.

New rules start in 2023

The regulations come into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, so that employers have time to adjust the work performed by existing young employees. As well, current employees who are within six months of reaching the prescribed age will be excluded from the age requirements.

“Through stakeholder meetings and the online survey, we received thoughtful and practical feedback on what age restrictions should be in place,” Bains said. “We have listened to all those perspectives, and developed balanced, reasonable requirements that provide valuable employment opportunities to youth without compromising their safety.”

Quick facts

In B.C. the average annual injury rate in 2021 was 2.2 per 100 workers, but some jobs have much higher injury rates. For example:

  • framers in the construction industry have an injury rate of 7.8 per 100 workers;
  • workers in abattoirs have an injury rate of 15.7; and
  • manual tree fallers/buckers have an injury rate of almost 20 per 100 workers.

Between 2012 and 2021, WorkSafeBC data revealed more than $26.4 million was paid out in job-related disability claims for workers who were 16 to 18 at the time of the injury.

Summary of the changes

Following public and stakeholder consultations, government has amended the Employment Standards Regulation, effective Jan. 1, 2023, to prescribe minimum ages of 16 or 18 for certain types of work that is too hazardous for younger workers:

A minimum age of 16 to undertake the following activities:

  • construction;
  • silviculture;
  • forest firefighting; and
  • working from heights that require fall protection.

A minimum age of 18 to undertake the following activities:

  • tree falling and logging;
  • using a chainsaw;
  • work in a production process at a pulp, paper, saw, shake or shingle mill;
  • work in a production process at a foundry, metal processing or metal fabrication operation, refinery or smelter;
  • powerline construction or maintenance where an electrical hazard exists;
  • oil or gas field servicing and drilling;
  • work with dangerous equipment in fish, meat or poultry processing facilities;
  • silica process/exposure to silica dust;
  • work in which a worker is or may be exposed to potentially harmful levels of asbestos;
  • exposure to harmful levels of radiation;
  • working in a confined space or underground workings; and
  • work requiring a respirator.

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