5 steps to young worker safety

Young worker safety must be a key focus for employers. Statistics from the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) say workers between the ages of 15 and 19 had 8,040 time loss injuries in Canada in 2012, and four work-related fatalities.
In the 20 to 24 age group, 23,266 were injured and a further 28 young workers died.

Anyone who lacks experience and trained judgment is at particular risk of getting injured, regardless of their age. Young workers especially rely on their employer for good advice, information and supervision and ultimately, for their safety.
How an employer can help ?Ensuring the safety and health of young people in the workplace starts with having a good health and safety management system that protects everyone.

Young workers may feel pressured and nervous, especially at a first job. They may want to please the employer and to not disappoint their parents. Being so focused on that objective — doing a great job — can lead them to work unsafely. One of the best things an employer can do is make it clear that safety is the young worker's first priority, and that it's perfectly fine to ask questions.

Assign suitable work: Some tasks are better reserved for more experienced workers. Before you even hire, assess the job and what it entails. What hazards will the worker be exposed to? Will certain situations present new risks? Will the worker ever have to fetch something from a confined space, a hard-to-reach area or some other hazardous spot? Will the worker be welding or doing some other task that could injure the worker and others in the vicinity?

Avoid assigning tasks that require a high degree of skill, lengthy training or a great deal of responsibility. Do not expect a young person to work alone or perform critical or risky tasks, such as handling dangerous chemicals.

Make time for training: Before young people start work, they must receive effective health and safety orientation and training. This training could include the company's health and safety policy, their personal responsibilities, hazards in their workplace, how to protect themselves starting day one, who to go to for advice, and what to do if things seem unsafe.

Tell young workers not to perform any task until they have been trained to do it. Encourage the young worker to ask questions at any time, especially about safety. Demonstrate how to do each task the safe way, and do it more than once. Be accessible. Stick around, watch the worker do the task, and correct any mistakes. The young worker might feel pressured to get it right the first time, so you can help by being patient and repeating instructions and demonstrating procedures as often as necessary. Continue to monitor the worker.

Provide appropriate safety equipment: Provide hands-on training on the correct use of equipment. When you demonstrate how to do a task, remember to include safety features and control systems. The young worker should know to keep exit doors free from clutter, for example, and to make sure safety guards on machines stay on, and equipment is turned off or disconnected after every shift where necessary.

Provide PPE: Provide or ensure that the worker has all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety shoes, hardhat, or gloves as the job requires. Make sure the young worker knows where to find it, how to use it, and how to care for it.

Supervise: Anyone supervising must have the knowledge, training or experience to organize work and its performance. Due to lack of understanding, a young worker may decide to make changes to the job in unexpected and possibly risky ways. Be sure that they are closely supervised, and stick to recognized and safe work procedures. Know the laws and regulations that apply to keeping workers safe on the job, and know what is hazardous — or could be — in the workplace.

Tips for young workers?

Young workers must know they have responsibilities to stay safe on the job. If they are not getting the information they need, they can protect their own health and safety or even save their life by asking these questions:

• What are the physical demands of the job?
• Will I have to work very late at night or very early in the morning?
• Will I ever work alone?
• What kind of safety gear will I need to wear?
• Will there be noise? Chemicals? Other hazards?
• What safety training will I receive?
• When will I receive this training?
• Where are the first-aid supplies and fire extinguishers kept?
• Do you have a worker safety policy and an emergency plan?
• Can you give an example of how employee health and safety is important to your business?

Help make this a great summer and beyond. Make sure your young workers have a safe and positive work experience.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) is Canada's national resource for the advancement of workplace health and safety. CCOHS promotes the total well being — physical, psychosocial and mental health — of working Canadians by providing information, training, education and management systems and solutions that support health and safety programs and the prevention of injury and illness. Learn more at www.ccohs.ca.