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.
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.
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?