24 March 2015
It is not unusual to receive a request for work experience from a school pupil. Observing in a dental practice can enhance the pupil’s understanding of dentistry and can assist them in deciding whether or not dentistry is the career for them. Not only that, but some dental schools prefer applicants to have undertaken some type of relevant work experience.
So what does a practice owner have to consider before agreeing to such a request?
Health and safety
Under health and safety law, a work experience student is considered to be your employee. You treat them no differently to other young people you employ. A young person is defined as anyone under the age of 18.
As an employer you will already have carried out a risk assessment. Under Health and Safety law you must assess the risks to young people under the age of 18 before they start work experience and tell them what the risks are. Young workers may be particularly at risk from work place hazards because of their lack of awareness of existing potential risks, immaturity or inexperience.
Health and Safety legislation addresses the protection of young persons at work in detail, and you should consider your obligations in this regard. The Health and Safety Executive guide, Young people and work experience: A brief guide to health and safety for employers, contains helpful information about these obligations.
Assess the risk
Before the young person can start work experience, the practice owner must carry out a risk assessment to identify any specific risks which they might face. The assessment must take into account the following:
- The inexperience and immaturity of young persons.
- Their lack of awareness of risks to their health and safety.
- The fitting and layout of the practice and surgery.
- The nature, degree and duration of any exposure to biological, chemical or physical agents.
- The form, range, use and handling of work equipment.
- The way in which processes and activities are organised.
- Any health and safety training given.
You should keep a record of the main findings of the risk assessment. This is good practice and it is a legal requirement if you have five or more employees (including young people on work experience). The risk assessment and any control measures taken should be shared with the parents of the work experience student. See the Health and Safety Executive's FAQs for more information.
Once the young person is ready to commence their work experience it is important that you check that they have undergone and understood training which covers, for example:
- The hazards and risks in the work place.
- The control measures put in place to protect their health and safety.
- A basic introduction to Health and Safety, for example, first aid and fire and evacuation procedures.
In addition to this you may wish to check that your employer’s liability insurance and public liability insurance cover includes work experience students.
Confidentiality is crucial and a clear induction is of paramount importance, as is the need to check the young person understanding of the subject. Confidentiality extends not only to the patient’s treatment, but also to the fact that someone is a patient of the practice. This might include some of the young person’s peers or teachers!
Issues of confidentiality also extend to access to the dental records and to the appointment book and you would need to ensure that the student is fully aware of your confidentiality protocols.
It would certainly be appropriate to check with each individual patient that they are happy to have a work experience student observing their dental treatment, and to emphasise that the patient can change their mind at any time.
The Working Time Regulations 1998 apply to work experience students and you may wish to consult with the school concerning the hours which they wish the work experience student to attend your dental practice.
Can I have a go?
The days of work experience students mixing materials and assisting at the chairside are long gone! It is appropriate to manage the work experience student’s expectations so that they are fully aware of that their experience, whilst being very worthwhile, will be limited to observing.