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Is 15 years old too young to work construction?

A very sad story was recently published in the Globe and Mail about a 15-year-old boy who was working at a gravel-crushing site in Alberta, when he became entangled in a conveyor belt and was killed. It leaves one wondering whether the age of 15 is an appropriate age for young persons to be working in the construction industry.

But what are the rules in Alberta?

Employees under age 18 and their employers have rights and responsibilities under Alberta’s employment standards and occupational health and safety legislation. Adolescents are defined as individuals aged 12, 13, and 14; and young persons are defined as individuals aged 15, 16 and 17.

Whether they are adolescents or young persons, individuals under 16 years old are required to attend school and may not be employed during normal school hours, unless they are enrolled in an off campus education program provided under the School Act.

Adolescent workers

Adolescents may work as: delivery persons for flyers, newspapers and handbills; delivery persons for small goods and merchandise for a retail store; clerks or messengers in an office; clerks in a retail store; and certain jobs in the restaurant and food services industry (with restrictions).

In terms of the restrictions for the restaurant and food services industry, there are only certain duties the adolescents can perform: host/hostess duties; cashier duties; dishwashing; bussing tables; waiting tables; providing customer service; assembling orders; or cleaning.

Moreover, there are specific restrictions for adolescents. For example, adolescents cannot: perform duties that involve the use of a deep fryer, grill, slicer or other dangerous equipment; work in areas where smoking is permitted; or serve liquor. Also, the employer must ensure the adolescent is in the continuous presence of an individual at least 18 years old, a safety checklist is completed, a hazard assessment is completed, and the health and safety legislation is complied with.

If the proposed new job is not on the approved list as stated above, the adolescent must have a permit before they can begin work. The employer, employee and the parent or guardian may jointly apply for a permit from the Director of Employment Standards.

Before applying for the permit, the employer must obtain the parent’s or guardian’s written consent to the employment before the adolescent can begin work for the employer. The employer must ensure that the employment is not (or likely not) harmful to the life, health, education and welfare of the adolescent.

The government of Alberta notes that the types of jobs that are usually considered potentially harmful to adolescents include: jobs in the construction industry; jobs requiring heavy lifting; jobs working with or near moving vehicles and equipment like forklifts; and jobs working with potentially hazardous equipment such as pneumonic drills, conveyors for bulk material, and grinders, welding equipment, hammers, blowtorches, deep fryers, grills, slicer, or sharp knives.

An additional restriction, adolescents may not work:

  • More than two hours on a school day.
  • More than eight hours on a non-school day.
  • Between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

Young persons

In contrast, as stated under the Alberta Employment Standards Code Regulations, young persons may work at any type of job, but if they are employed at any:

  • retail business selling food or beverages, whether alcoholic or not,
  • retail business selling any other commodities, goods, wares or merchandise,
  • retail business selling gasoline, diesel fuel, propane or any other product of petroleum or
    natural gas, or
  • hotel, motel or other place that provides overnight accommodation to the public,

they must be in the continuous presence of at least one individual 18 years old or older between 9:00 p.m. and 12:01 a.m. Young people are not allowed to work at all in these businesses between 12:01 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.

If a young person is working in a business that is not listed above, they may only work between 12:01 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. if:

  • Their parent/guardian provides written consent to the employment, and
  • The young person is in the continuous presence of at least one other individual 18 years
    old or older.

So what happened?

Not really sure at this time.

Jobs in the construction industry are usually considered potentially harmful to adolescents, but does not seem to be for young persons.

The company, Calgary-based Arjon Construction Ltd., hired Chris Lawrence, 15, for about a month before the incident. Lawrence was still in training at the time of the incident, the company said.

CTV Calgary reports that Arjon Construction Ltd. only learned after the incident that Lawrence was 15 years old. The company’s minimum age requirement for employees is 18. However, The minimum age to work at a gravel site and to operate heavy machinery is 15, as long as these workers don’t work between midnight and 6 a.m.; so the company was not doing anything wrong in hiring Lawrence except going against their own policy.

Alberta Occupational Health and Safety is investigating the incident and will be looking at the hazard assessment, equipment, supervision and training offered.

According to the same CTV Calgary reports, the Alberta Federation of Labour responded to the teen’s death by saying that the province’s child labour laws are among the worst in the country and is calling for improvements to working conditions and safety standards, specifically for young workers. “Alberta’s child labour laws are among the most lax in Canada,” said Siobhan Vipond, AFL secretary treasurer. In April, during the ongoing Employment Standards Code review, a submission from the Alberta Federation of Labour included several pages of recommendations on young workers.

“Alberta needs targeted inspections of workplaces that employ 15-17 year-olds, especially in construction and other comparatively dangerous occupations,” said Vipond.

Nevertheless, do you think 15 years old is too young to work in construction?

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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6 thoughts on “Is 15 years old too young to work construction?
  • Thanks for your comments. This is clearly an important issue that should be reviewed by the Ministry of Labour in Alberta…


  • Linda Mercadante says:

    I think 15 is too young to work in all jobs in construction. There should be restricted jobs that they can and cannot do. Despite training, 15 years old just do not see the risk or hazards they may come across, or know how to react if they do come across a hazardous situation. I think it should be very limited jobs that they should be allowed to do in certain industries.
    It takes something so tragic like this to rethink this. My heart goes out to his family.

  • Tanya says:

    We are not permitted to allow anyone to operate mobile equipment of any kind unless they have a valid driver’s license, as per ICBC, as it would effect insurance. So, although there may be certain jobs that a 15 year old could maybe physically do on a construction site, they should not be allowed to operate any of the equipment if they are not old enough to have a license yet. Also, teenagers just do not have the maturity yet to process the implications of a dangerous situation, and therefore can be put in harms way.

    This tragedy could have been prevented and my heart goes out to his family.

  • I strongly believe that some of the same criteria used for adolescent workers should be applied to young persons… meaning… doing a hazard assessment of the work to be performed by the young person before the young person starts work… to determine that the employment is not (or likely not) harmful to the life, health, education and welfare. Once that assessment is done, it must be used in the training to ensure the worker understand fully the dangers faced and how to apply safety measures properly while working. Everything should be documented. Also the Ministry of Labour in Alberta should inspect workplaces that hire young persons and adolescent more.

  • Thanks for your comment Lori,

  • Lori says:

    Young persons should be provided the privilege and the right to work in any job with specific safety training requirements developed to target the learning style of the age group.

    This is just so sad and my heart goes out to this family and this young mans friends.