Each year the International Labour Organisation (ILO) selects a topic to raise awareness on a high risk group or industry. This year, the ILO has selected the topic of child labour, which includes our youth. In many communities we encourage and indeed insist that our children or youth find work to earn pocket money. Not all are so fortunate. Many children or youth are required to leave school and work as main bread winners for destitute families. In South Africa, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) limit the age at which children can commence work, generally at 15. The Department of Labour (DoL) Occupational Health and Safety Act No 85 of 1993 introduced a specific regulation through Section 43 on hazardous work by children with respect to health and safety (H&S).  

According to the ILO, 541 million young workers (15-24 years old) includes 37 million children in hazardous child labour . These numbers account for more than 15% of the world’s labour force. These children are likely to suffer up to a 40% higher rate of non-fatal occupational injuries than adult workers older than 25. Many factors increase youth vulnerability to H&S risks. Such risks affect their physical and psychological stage of development which are highly vulnerable at this time. Other aspects such as the lack of work experience, lack of training, limited awareness of work-related hazards and a lack of bargaining power could lead young workers to accept dangerous tasks or jobs with poor working conditions (ILO, 2018). 

Who is a child, and who is an employer?

A child is a person under 18 years of age, and an employer is a person who employed or provides work to a child.


What can a child do?

No piecework or task work may be done

May not work more than 8 hours in any day or more than 20 hours per week during a school term, or 40 hours per week during school holidays


Risks need to be assessed for mitigating injury, disease or fatalities at work:

Analyse and assess all risks;

Implement a plan of safe work procedures to remove or mitigate the risks and hazards that have been identified;

Ensure there is a system to monitor and review all risk assessments


Specific limitations at work:

Development continues at least until 21! So special precautions are needed for:

Respiratory Exposure

If under 17 a child may not work where they need to wear respiratory protection, such as dust masks or respirators.


Working at heights

A child may not work at height of greater than 5 metres above ground, and must be under the continual supervision at 2m and trained to use fall arrest equipment. 


Ergonomic risks

A child should not be lifting objects or items that are greater than 15kg or 20% of body weight, or moving items of more than 7.5kg than once/minute.


Cold temperatures

A child may not work in 0 degree Celsius for more than 2 minutes, or 6 degrees for an hour where there is multiple entry, or continually required.