We have been contacted by a training  provider regarding taking on an apprentice, is there anything I need to be aware of?

The simple answer to your question is yes, there are a considerable number of issues that can arise when an apprentice is appointed. However many of your concerns will no doubt be answered by speaking with the training provider who will have encountered similar issues in the past.

The two principle issues you should consider are health and safety implications and the nature of the contract you will enter into with the apprentice.
Health and Safety

One of the main issues you should consider is the health and safety of the new apprentice. The ‘normal’ processes of your workshop, which everyone takes for granted and do daily can expose an apprentice to a risk of injury.

It is sensible therefore to undertake a risk assessment and ensure the apprentice is correctly inducted into the business and supervised. Even simple things such as disconnecting an airline if not completed correctly can cause serious injury. If the air hose is not held correctly it can slip out of the hand when being disconnected and fly outwards and strike the person in the face/eye causing a potentially serious injury.

Recently a landscaping company (February 2017) admitted failing to properly train and supervise work on a dangerous machine after a teenage boy on work experience had a finger amputated while working unsupervised on a log splitter.

Ed Rogers Landscape Construction and Maintenance Ltd of Jericho Street, Thorverton, pleaded guilty at Exeter Magistrates Court to the offence under Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, has been fined £6,000, and ordered to pay costs of £1,017.

The company had employed the 16 year old for just three weeks when the incident happened. The apprentice was shown how to operate a log splitter by the company owner, Edward Rogers, who then left the apprentice to work alone on site.

While the teenager was operating the log splitter unsupervised he held a log in place and started the machine. The hydraulic blade of the log splitter came down onto the log and severed his finger.

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which found that while the boy was working alone on site at the time of the incident, there was no first aid given. The teenager was later taken to hospital but his injuries were too severe to save his finger.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Simon Jones, said: “Work experience for young people is incredibly valuable and is to be encouraged but companies taking on apprentices must take into account the young person’s inexperience. As a result they should be fully supervised when operating dangerous machinery”.

Fixed Term Contract

It is also important to understand whether the apprentice contract you are entering into is a ‘fixed term’ contract, either for a set period of time or until a defined circumstance is reached, i.e. when the apprentice has achieved the agreed qualification. 

If the contract is for a fixed term then it would be sensible to investigate the circumstances that allow you to legally end the contract.  This point was considered in Kinnear v Marley Eternit Ltd t/a Marley Contract Services when an employment tribunal awarded £25,000 for breach of contract to an employee whose apprenticeship was ended early.

Mr Kinnear became an apprentice roof tiler with Marley Eternit in October 2014. His contract of apprenticeship agreed with his employer was due to run until November 2018.

In June 2016, he was advised that there had been a downturn in business and that his employment was being terminated on the basis of redundancy. He appealed against dismissal but his appeal was rejected.

Mr Kinnear brought a claim for breach of contract in an employment tribunal.  The tribunal noted that he had 122 weeks left to run on his apprenticeship. It assessed that he would have been paid £24,217 for the remainder of his apprenticeship.

The tribunal also acknowledged that the lack of a roofing qualification might disadvantage him in the labour market for a number of years to come, and while the employment tribunal did not assess in detail Mr Kinnear’s potential future loss of earnings, it accepted that his losses were likely to reach at least £25,000 (the maximum an employment tribunal can award for breach of contract)

Conclusion

Possibly the two most important things to get right at the start of an apprenticeship are;

  1. To ensure that you document that the apprentice is inducted correctly, supervised and is in the safest environment you can provide, and
  2. The contractual relationship between you and the apprentice can be quite restrictive, so ensure you know how to legally end the contract if the apprentice fails to follow your reasonable instructions and/or has attendance issues.

The last thing your business needs is an HSE investigation and prosecution and/or a breach of contract claim because you have dismissed the apprentice early.