How to Protect Young Workers from Injury
Inexperience combined with the lack of safety training are the leading causes of occupational injuries and illness among young workers.
Occupational injury rates among young workers are relatively high due to the alarming range of occupational hazards present in their work environments. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that 13% of the labor force (17.5 million workers) are young workers under the age of 24. In 2015, 403 members of this cohort died from work-related injuries.
In this article, we'll go over the information you'll need to keep young workers safe and healthy at work and go over their rights and responsibilities. (New to modern safety thinking? Check out Workplace Safety Culture 101.)
Why Do Injuries Occur?
All work environments have some risks. The number and types of risks vary depending on the type of workplace, as well as the nature of work being carried out. Young workers may sustain injuries or illness on the job for various reasons, such as:
- Unsafe equipment
- Inadequate safety training
- Inadequate supervision
- Dangerous work that is illegal or inappropriate for youths under 18
- Pressure to work faster
- Stressful conditions
- Employer/employee negligence to OSHA standards
The 7 Most Dangerous Types of Occupations for Young Workers
A hazard is any source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects posed to an individual exposed to certain conditions at work. Common workplace hazards and injuries include: slips, trips, and falls; strains and sprains; burns and cuts; eye injuries; hearing loss; chemical exposure; motor vehicle accidents; electrocution; and machinery malfunctions (for more, see Hazards vs Danger: Do You Know the Difference?).
The following is a list of the seven most dangerous types of occupations for young workers, along with their hazards:
- Retail/Grocery Stores/Convenience Stores: Hazards include equipment and machinery, heavy lifting, violent crime, repetitive hand motion, and slippery or obstructed floors and pathways
- Food Service/Fast Food: Hazards include sharp objects, hot cooking equipment, slippery floors, electricity, heavy lifting, and violent crime
- Janitorial/Cleanup/Maintenance: Hazards include dangerous cleaning chemicals, slippery floors, heavy lifting, infectious diseases, electricity, and vehicles
- Office/Clerical: Hazards include repetitive hand motion, back and neck strain, and stress
- Outdoor Work: Hazards include exposure to the sun, heat, pesticides and chemicals, machinery and vehicles, electricity, heavy lifting, and noise
- Construction: Hazards include falls, machines and tools, hazardous materials, confined space, electricity, struck-by, vehicle back-over, and noise
- Agriculture: Hazards include machinery, struck-by, falls, electricity, confined space, hazardous chemicals, organic dust, and heat (also see Farm Safety: Cultivating Safe Work Practices)
What Rights Do Young Workers Have at Work?
As an employer, it's important to respect workers' rights. And that starts with know what those rights are. Young workers have the right to:
- Work in a safe and healthy place
- Receive safety and health training in a language that they understand
- Ask questions if they do not understand instructions, or if something seems unsafe
- Earn at least the federal minimum wage
- Get paid for medical care if they are hurt or sick because of their job
- Work without being harassed, or treated poorly because of their race, skin color, religion, sex, or disabilities (for more, see Workplace Bullying: An Act of War Threatening the Health and Safety of Your Employees)
- Join or start a union
- File a confidential complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) if they believe there is a serious hazard, or that their employer is not following OSHA standards
- Refuse work that is dangerous to themselves or others (find out How to Refuse Unsafe Work)
Your Responsibilities as an Employer
As an employer, you must:
- Provide a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards
- Follow all OSHA safety and health standards
- Choose and provide safety adequate safety gear to your workers at no cost to them, including ear plugs, work gloves, safety glasses, or special clothing
- Use words the employees can understand when delivering workplace safety training
- Tell employees about the hazards associated with their jobs and how to deal with them. This includes training on how to handle chemicals safely and deal with other workplace hazards, as well as how to respond to emergencies
- Tell employees what they can do if they get hurt on the job
Staying Safe at Work
There are a number of things workers can do to stay safe at work. These might seem obvious to you, but it might not be to your younger and less experienced workers. Be sure to remind them that they can enhance their safety at work by:
- Reporting unsafe conditions to a supervisor
- Wearing any safety gear required to do their job
- Following the safety rules
- Asking questions if they do not understand any of their job tasks
- Asking for help if needed
- Looking out for their co-workers
- Keeping work areas clean and neat
- Knowing what to do in the event of an emergency
Not Always Their First Rodeo
Every time a worker starts a new job, they need to receive fresh information and training about workplace health and safety. Even if this isn't your new employee's first job, you still need to take them through the usual onboarding and training process. Make sure that every new employee knows:
- What job safety training they will get
- The hazards associated with their job
- Whether they need to wear safety gear and how to use it properly
- Who they need to speak to if they have any health and safety concerns
- What to do in the event of an emergency
- What actions they should take if they get hurt at work
Give Them a Voice
Remember, inexperience combined with lack of training are the leading causes of occupational illness and injury among young workers. So, make their rights, their responsibilities, and the proper work procedures clear to them. They need to know they can speak up, and that it might just be what saves a co-worker's life or even their own.
Written by Kurina Baksh
Kurina Baksh is a Health, Safety and Environment Professional from Trinidad and Tobago. As a recent graduate in the field, she is trained to analyze and advise on a wide range of issues related to her area of expertise. Currently, she is an independent consultant who develops public outreach and education programmes for an international clientele. She strongly believes that increasing public outreach and education can promote hazard awareness and ultimately save lives.
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