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Young Workers: Keeping them Safe
By Mary Bedard

Young people coming into the workplace bring a great deal of energy and enthusiasm to their work. But too many of them enter the workforce with little real life experience and this makes them much more susceptible to real life accidents and injuries in the workplace. The statistics don't lie.

In 2008 the Institut de Recherche Robert-Sauvé en Santé et en Sécurité du Travail reported that although young workers work only 10% of the hours of all workers, they injure themselves at a rate of 16%. The Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada also noted that each year, over 48,000 young workers are injured seriously enough to require time off work. Most chilling of all in 2007 there were 38 fatalities among young workers.

All of this data points to the fact that young people act differently than other people at work and more importantly that employers have to take this into consideration when using young people at their workplaces. We need to understand that young minds think differently than older and more experienced employees. Some of their characteristics include taking more risks, being unrealistic about their own mortality or danger, and being reluctant to ask questions because they don't want to "look stupid" in front of a supervisor or other workers. As the statistics above reveal this can be a deadly combination.

In some ways employers have to think first for young workers at least until they have enough work experience to recognize and avoid dangerous situations on their own. This may mean a lot of repetition about potential hazards and negative outcomes until the message sinks in but if we can keep them safe until they finally get it, it will be worth the effort. Employers also need to find a way to convince their young workers that it's okay to ask questions if they are unsure about any procedure or operating any piece of equipment. Close supervision and making sure that they follow recognized and safe work procedures is also very important.

Consideration should also be given to the type and range of work that young people are assigned in the workplace. There are clear age restrictions on a number of occupations with inherent risks like logging, construction and mining, but given what we know about young workers there are a number of situations to avoid in all work environments. These include assigning young workers to any job that requires long training times or a high degree of skill, a great deal of responsibility, or working alone. They should also never be placed in a situation where there may be critical or risky tasks to be performed like working with hazardous chemicals, even in a relatively safe job like office cleaning or maintenance.

Every young worker should not only receive a lot of attention from their supervisor and employer but they should be properly trained before being assigned any responsibilities at work. This training will need to be clear, frequent and repeated, especially during the first couple of weeks on the job. They should also be told to stay in their assigned area of work until they are directed otherwise. This is necessary because other parts of the worksite may expose them unnecessarily to risks or hazards they have not been trained to deal with. Finally they should be encouraged to not only think safety first, but to ask questions if any new aspects of their job arise.

All young workers absolutely have to be trained in both safety and personal protective equipment before they start a work assignment, and what to do if something goes wrong. If young workers are required to wear safety shoes, a hard hat, gloves, or an eye shield,
be sure that they know when they need it, where to find it, how to use it, and how to care for it. They also need to know the basics of how to deal with an accident, injury or emergency. They need to know the locations of fire or emergency alarms and exits and how to obtain First Aid or medical help if that should become required.
 
The key to keeping young workers safe on the job is proper supervision. Their supervisor is responsible for ensuring that the young worker is properly trained on all aspects of their job and safety in their workplace. They have to know the potential and actual hazards in the workplace and be able to assist their young employee to identify and avoid them.

If we follow these basic essentials we can keep young workers safe on the job and it's certainly worth it. They are not only our future, but our future workforce as well.



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