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New B.C. regulations raise minimum age for hazardous work

WorkSafeBC data shows workers between the age of 16 and 18 received $26 million in job-related disability claims between 2012 and 2021. (Kuzmafoto/Shutterstock - image credit)
WorkSafeBC data shows workers between the age of 16 and 18 received $26 million in job-related disability claims between 2012 and 2021. (Kuzmafoto/Shutterstock - image credit)

New B.C. rules that came into force Jan. 1 increase the minimum age for young people allowed to perform hazardous work.

Employees need to be at least 18 for most hazardous tasks, including tree falling and logging, using a chainsaw, working underground, or work with exposure to certain harmful substances, according to the amendment to the Employment Standards Act.

The minimum age is 16 for work in construction, silviculture, forest firefighting, and for jobs from heights that require fall protection.

"Work experience can be a rewarding and exciting opportunity for young workers … I certainly believe it should never compromise their safety," B.C.'s Labour Minister Harry Bains said on CBC's Early Edition Monday.

Bains said B.C. was behind many other jurisdictions across the world in allowing youth to perform potentially dangerous work.

Previously, 16 was the minimum age for all types of work in B.C., but it hadn't been that way for long, according to the Ministry of Labour. Before July 21, 2021, the general working age, covering the vast majority of jobs, was 12 years old.

Bains said youth may be less likely than adults to voice their concerns.

"There is a power imbalance between adults and young workers who may not have the knowledge, confidence, or maturity to refuse unsafe work."

According to WorkSafeBC data, workers between the age of 16 and 18 received $26 million in job-related disability claims between 2012 and 2021, some of them after being left with permanent disabilities.

Bains said B.C. employers are fined "on a regular basis" for engaging in unsafe practice.

"Data proved that young workers were getting injured on the job. This is the time for them to develop and mature, not to risk their health and safety and leaving lifelong injuries."

The new restrictions do not apply to current employees who reach the minimum age by April 1, or to those in industry training programs overseen by SkilledTradesBC.