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Restaurant Safety for Young Workers

The United States has more of its youth in the workforce than any other developed country in the world. By the year 2010, 17.8 million youths aged 16-19 will work, up from 16 million in 2000, according to government forecasts. Young workers suffer a disproportionate share of injuries and fatalities, especially in the first year on the job. In 2006, 30 youths under 18 died from work-related injuries. More than 4 million teens leave their classrooms each summer to find work, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimated that 54,800 work-related injuries and illnesses among youth less than 18 years of age were treated in hospital emergency departments. Because only one-third of work-related injuries are seen in emergency departments, it is likely the actual number of such injuries among working youth is much higher, approximately 160,000 injuries and illnesses each year. The vast majority of these injuries occur in eating and drinking establishments. The restaurant industry and other retail businesses rank high among US industries for risk of adolescent worker injuries.

Restaurant safety for young workers is addressed in specific standards for the general industry.


This section highlights OSHA standards, standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards), and other federal standards related to restaurant safety for young workers.


Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

Frequently Cited Standards

OSHA maintains a listing of the most frequently cited standards for specified 2-6-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes. Please refer to OSHA's Frequently Cited OSHA Standards page for additional information. For Food Services and Drinking Places use NAICS code 722 in the NAICS search box.

Standard Interpretations

Other Federal

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

US Department of Labor (DOL)

Adolescent workers are protected by two laws enforced by DOL: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. Each state also has child labor laws.

  • Employers must comply with both federal and state laws. When federal and state standards are different, the rules that provide the most protection to youth workers will apply. For additional information, see child labor laws listed by state.

Federal laws provide guidance for employment of youth workers in both agricultural and non-agricultural jobs.

  • Federal child labor rules are established by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA child labor provisions are designed to protect the educational opportunities of youth and prohibit their employment in jobs and under conditions detrimental to their health or safety. Once a teen reaches age 18, federal child labor rules no longer apply.
    • For information on non-agricultural youth workers see: hours permitted and jobs permitted, some exemptions exist. For example, if you are 14 to 15 years of age, you may not perform jobs in the food service industry such as:
      • Cooking, except at soda fountains, lunch counters, snack bars, and cafeteria serving counters;
      • Baking;
      • Operating, setting up, adjusting, cleaning, oiling, or repairing power-driven food slicers, grinders, choppers, cutters, and bakery mixers;
      • Operating Neico broilers, pressurized fryers, rotisseries, lawn mowers and "weed whackers";
      • Working in freezers or meat coolers;
      • Outside window washing, or work standing on a window sill, ladder, scaffold, or similar equipment;
      • Loading or unloading goods on or off trucks, railcars, or conveyors.

Hazardous Jobs (for non-agricultural occupations): Teens younger than age 18 years of age, may not work in or with occupations defined as Hazardous Occupations (HO). Hazardous occupations that may be represented in the restaurant industry and are not allowed for employees younger than 18 include:

  • 29 CFR 570.52, Occupations of motor-vehicle driver and outside helper (Order 2)

  • 29 CFR 570.58, Occupations involved in the operation of power-driven hoisting apparatus (Order 7)

  • 29 CFR 570.61, Occupations in the operation of power-driven meat-processing machines and occupations involving slaughtering, meat packing or processing, or rendering (Order 10)

  • 29 CFR 570.62, Occupations involved in the operation of bakery machines (Order 11)

For additional information about Hazardous Occupations and the FLSA see the following US Department of Labor (DOL) sites:

Hazard Recognition

There are hazards in every workplace and young and inexperienced workers are especially at risk. The following references aid in recognizing the hazards that are present for young workers in restaurants.

Possible Solutions

Young workers should know about and follow safe work practices, recognizing the potential for injury at work. They can seek information about these practices from employers, parents, state labor departments, and OSHA. In addition, young workers should participate in training programs offered by their employers, or request training if none is offered. The following references provide information about possible solutions for the workplace hazards faced by young workers in restaurants.

  • YouthRules! US Department of Labor (DOL). Includes information on federal and state rules concerning young workers.

  • Q & A's for Small Business. OSHA Publication 3163, (Revised 2002). Also available as a 635 KB PDF, 6 pages. Includes answers to questions on how to minimize accidents, develop safety programs, perform worksite analysis, and more.

  • Promoting Safe Work for Young Workers. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 99-141, (1999, November). Documents three community-based Young Worker Projects.

  • Preventing Deaths and Injuries of Adolescent Workers. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 95-125, (1995, May). A Spanish version is also available. Describes the risk of work-related injuries among adolescents and some preventative measures.

  • Preventing Electrocutions Due to Damaged Receptacles and Connectors. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 87-100, (1986, October). Discusses two incidents involving the electrocution of workers due to the use of damaged electrical receptacles and connectors.

  • Preventing Electrocution of Workers in Fast Food Restaurants. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 85-104, (1984, December). Discusses a report of a fatal restaurant accident and recommendations for electrical safety in commercial kitchens.

  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning from Gas Fired Cooking Units in Food Preparation Locations [99 KB PDF, 2 pages]. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, (2000, Fall). Summarizes the lessons learned during three Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) investigations that uncovered a carbon monoxide (CO) hazard that may exist in a number of fast food and other food preparation establishments.

  • Teens Working in Food Service [256 KB PDF, 2 pages]. Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation, Workplace & Medical Services, Outreach & Education Publication No. HS04-046B(8-04), (2006, September). Discusses safe work practices for teen workers.

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Other Resources

  • Teen Workers. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Covers hiring minors, hours of work, prohibited duties, and more for all industries other than agriculture.

  • Restaurant Safety Materials - Teen-worker restaurant safety program materials. Washington State Department of Labor & Industries. Includes outreach materials.

  • Health and Safety Awareness for Working Teens. The University of Washington. Includes information for teens, teachers, parents, and employers.

  • For Teens: The Basics about young worker health and safety. California Resource Network for Young Worker Health and Safety. Serves as an information source for teens, parents, educators, and employers in California. Includes resources and links to other state's labor laws.

  • Pesticides Initiatives: Links. National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF).

  • NSF Regulatory. The National Sanitation Federation (NSF). NSF is an independent, not-for-profit organization known around the world for development of voluntary consensus standards, product testing procedures, and certification services in the areas of public health, safety, and the environment. NSF is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to develop American National Standards. ANSI's accreditation verifies that NSF develops standards in a manner to ensure openness and due process allowing for equity and fair play.

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