The Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) spearheaded the launch today of the Young Worker Safety Awareness campaign, which coincided with the first day of the observance of the Healthy Workplace Month. [Watch safety leaders talk about young worker safety]
Maureen Shaw, president and CEO of the IAPA, stressed the need to raise awareness about the resources and support available for young workers to help reduce workplace injuries.
Starting a job is often a very exciting time for many new and young workers, said Shaw. And too often, the fear of being fired or letting the employer down takes precedence over their own well-being.
Workers aged 15 to 24 make up 15 per cent of the Canadian workforce, Shaw said. In 2006, more than 11,300 young workers suffered injuries on the job that prevented them from performing work for at least one day. In the same year, 10 young workers were killed as a result of a work-related accident or injury.
Sarah Wheelan, a young worker ambassador and an intern at the IAPA, related her own experience a few years ago as a young worker working at a deli store, where she was forced to take shortcuts in cleaning the meat cutter exposing her to risks of injury.
Wheelan said that while she was aware that she’s being subjected to unsafe work practices at the time, she didn’t know how to address her concern. And when she tried to tell her supervisor about her concern, it was dismissed as part of the job.
“Risk is inherent to life but why do we allow the same predictable tragedies to happen over and over again?” Wheelan said.
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board chair Steve Mahoney, who delivered a message at the Young Worker Safety Awareness launch event, urged young workers to take responsibility of their own safety at work.
“We need to get the message across to young workers that they in fact have the right to refuse unsafe work,” Mahoney said. “It’s against the law for them to be fired for doing so and they in fact have the responsibility to do it so that they can point out any unsafe conditions.”
The WSIB chair also warned employers against ignoring or rejecting young workers’ safety concerns, saying they will be dealt with “very harshly.”
“We have zero tolerance for that kind of attitude in the workplace,” he said.
Mahoney said that in the last three years, an average of 10 young workers were killed in the workplace every year. He said protecting young workers should not only be a concern for employers, but also for parents, teachers and the whole community.
“Prevention is truly the only solution … How about if we start them young?” Mahoney said, citing various programs by the WSIB that targets young children to raise awareness around workplace safety.
The IAPA’s Young Worker Safety Awareness campaign runs from October to November and will involve a series of regional conferences related to young worker safety across Ontario.